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Translated by JOHN R USSELL 

Illustrated with 48 pages of photographs and 
48 line drawings. 

/ have sought a human society reduced 
to its most basic expression. 

His search has taken Claude Levi- 
Strauss, eminent French anthropologist 
and one of the founders of structural 
anthropology, to the far corners of the 
earth, not as a superficial sightseer, but 
as a close student of man and the varied 
cultures he has erected around himself. 
While a professor at Sao Paolo Univer 
sity in Brazil, M. Levi-Strauss travelled 
extensively through the Amazon basin 
and the dense upland jungles of Brazil 
to the "Tristes Tropiques" of his title. 
It was here, among the most primitive 
of the Amerindian tribes, that he found 
the basic humain societies he was seeking. 
Tristes Tropiques is the story of his 
experience among these tribes. Here 
are intricate, detailed accounts of the 
Caduveo, and the elaborate painted 
designs behind which they hide their 
"natural" faces . . . the rigid hier 
archical society of the Bororo ... the 
Nambikwara, who win a sort of security 
by giving wives to their chief ... the 
disease and superstition-ridden Tupi- 
Kawahib, whose weird tribal dances 
sometimes last for days. 

Continued on back flap 

iV^ v V- " Cv- 

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981 L56t 
Le vi -Straus s 
Tristes Tropiques 


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Two masked dancers and two girls, 
Caraji-Indians of the Rio Araguaia. The 
Caraji are closely related, both geo 
graphically and culturally, to the Bororo 
described in the book. They, too, are one 
of the wandering tribes of Central Brazil. 


AUF2S 67 




-j p.. 


Tristes Tropiques 

Translated by 


English translation Hutchinson & Co. (Publishers) Ltd., London, 1961 
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 61-7203 

Originally published in France under the title 

Tristes Tropiaues by Librairie Plon, Paris, 1955: Chapters 

XIV, XV, XVI and XXXIX of the French 

edition are omitted in this translation. 

First American edition 

Printed in Great Britain 

61 15758 

L c- - t 


minus ergo ante haec quam tu ceddere, cadentque. 

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura, m, 969 

61 15758 




1 Departure 17 

2 On Board Ship 23 

3 The Antilles 31 

4 The Quest for Power 38 



5 A Backward Glance 49 

6 How I became an Anthropologist 54 

7 Sunset 65 



8 The Doldrums 77 

9 Guanabara 85 

10 Into the Tropics 94 

11 Sao Paulo 100 



12 Town and Country in 

13 The Pioneer Zone 123 



14 Parana 133 

15 Pantanal 141 

16 Nalike 151 

17 A Native Society and its Style 160 



1 8 Gold and Diamonds 183 

19 The Good Savage 198 

20 The Living and the Dead 214 



21 The Lost World 235 

22 In the Sertao 249 

23 On the Line 262 

24 Family Life 272 

25 A Writing Lesson 286 

26 Men, Women, and Chiefs 298 



27 By Canoe 3*3 

28 Crusoe Country 323 

29 In the Forest 332 

30 The Crickets Village 342 

3 1 The Japim Bird Takes the Stage 3 49 

32 Amazonia 357 

33 Seringal 363 



34 The Apotheosis of Augustus 373 

35 A Little Glass of Rum 381 

36 Conclusion 393 

Bibliography 399 

Index 401 


Frontispiece Two masked dancers and two girls, Caraja-Indians 



1 Virgin forest in Parana 

2 ThePantanal 

3 Nalike, capital of the Caduveo country 
4-5 Caduveo women with painted faces 

6 A Caduveo belle in 1895 (after Boggiani) 

7 Face-painting; an original drawing by a Caduveo woman 

8 Another face-painting, drawn by a native 

9 Another face-painting, drawn by a native 

10 A Caduveo girl dressed and painted for the rites of puberty 


11 The Bororo village of Kejara: in the centre the Men s House; at 

the back, some of the huts of the Tugare moiety 

12 A Bororo couple 

13 The author s best informant in full regalia 

14 A meal in the Men s House 

15 Funeral dance 

16 Dance of the Paiwe clan 

17 Preparations for the mariddo dance 

1 8 Funeral ceremony 


19 The Nambikwara tribe on the move 

20 Resting 

21 A leaf shelter in the dry season 

22 Little girl with a monkey 

23 Building a hut for the rainy season 

24 Two Nambikwara men. Note the cigarette rolled in a leaf and 

tucked through the bracelet on the upper arm 

25 Sabane the sorcerer 

26 Chief Wakleto^u 

27 Preparing curare 

28 The Nambikwara position of the right hand in drawing the bow: 

the so-called secondary position. Cf. plate 52 

29 A Nambikwara woman piercing mother-of-pearl from the river 

for ear-rings 

30 The Nambikwara at work: grading pearls, threading them, and, 

in the background, weaving 

31 A polygamous family 

32 A woman suckling her child in the native manner 

33 A Nambikwara family 

34 Siesta 

35 Conjugal felicity 

36 Affectionate frolics 

37 ... and struggles meant only in fun 

38 Looking for lice 

39 Young woman with a monkey 

40 Pregnant woman dozing 

41 Carrying a child 

42 The spinner interrupted 

43 The sorcerer s two wives in conversation 

44 Nambikwara youth with a nasal ornament and a stiff fibre lip- 


45 The day-dreamer 

46 A Nambikwara smile 


47 Going up the Rio Pimenta Bueno 

48 The Mund village amidst its plantations 

49 The Mund village square 

50 A Mund6 man with lip-plugs of hardened resin 

51 The dome of a Mund hut seen from inside 

52 Munde archer; note the position of the right hand (the Medi 

terranean release ) which differs from that adopted by the 
Bororo and Nambikwara, most often found in America. Cf. 
plate 28 

53 Two young Mund mothers 

54 A Mund woman and her child whose eyebrows are coated with 

wax ready for plucking 

55 Sharing camp with the Tupi-Kawahib on the edge of the Rio 


56 Lucinda 

57 A Tupi-Kawahib man skinning a monkey. Note the belt, a recent 

gift, and the penis-sheath 

5 8 Taperahi, chief of the Tupi-Kawahib 

59 Kunhatsin, chief wife of Taperahi, with her child 

60 Pwereza, Taperahi s son 

6 1 Penhana, the young wife of the two brothers 

62 Maruabai, co-wife (withher daughter Kunhatsin) of Chief Taperahi 

63 Carrying canoes to by-pass rapids on the Rio Gi-Parana 


1 Afiga found at Pompeii (the tip of the thumb has been 

broken) 113 

2 A rustic calvary in the interior of the State of Sao Paulo 

decorated with various objects representing the instru 
ments of the Passion 117 

3 Ox-cart axle 120 

4 Kaingang pottery 138 

5 Water-jar, decorated in bright red and varnished with black 

resin *54 

6 Three examples of Caduveo pottery 157 

7 Two wooden statuettes: the Little Old Man (left) and the 

Mother of the Twins (right) 15? 

8 Caduveo jewellery made of hammered coins and thimbles 158 

9 Statuettes of mythological personnages in stone (left) and 

wood (right) 159 

10-11 Caduveo designs 163 

12-13 Motifs used in body-painting 165 

14-17 More motifs used in body-painting 167 

18 Drawings made by a young Caduvean boy 169 

19 Another drawing by the same artist 170 

20 Two face-paintings, notable for the motif formed by two 

opposed spirals which represent and are applied on 

the upper lip 171 

21 Design painted on leather 172 

22-23 Body-painting: on the left as recorded by Boggiani in 

1895 and on the right as recorded by the author in 1935 175 

24-5 Two face- and body-painting motifs 177 

26 A face-painting 178 

27 Penis-sheath 201 

28 Lip-plug and ear-rings of mother-of-pearl and feathers 201 

29 Plan of Kejara village 203 

30 Wooden club used in fishing 207 

31 Bows decorated with rings of bark in the fashion character 

istic of the owner s clan 207 

32 Arrow shafts bearing clan ornamentation between the 

feathering 209 

33 Emblazoned penis-sheaths 209 

34 Black pottery bowl 211 

35 Two examples, one single and one double, of a Bororo 

pocket-knife* 2II 

36 Crescent-shaped pendant decorated with jaguar teeth 21 1 

37 Improvised ornaments: painted crowns of dried straw 211 

38 A bull-roarer 215 

39 Ceremonial ear-rings made of pieces of mother-of-pearl 

fastened to strips of bark, and trimmed with feathers and 
hair 221 

40 Bororo paintings of cult objects 223 

41 Bororo painting of an officiant, trumpets, a rattle, and 

various ornaments 224 

42 Diadem of yellow and blue aura feathers carrying clan 

marking 227 

43 Diagram showing the real and apparent social structure of 

the Bororo village 231 

44-5 People of ancient Mexico, on the left from the south 
east (American Museum of Natural History), on the 
right from the Gulf coast (Exposition d Art Mexicain, 
1952) 241 

46-7 On the left Chavin culture, northern Peru (after Tello); 
on the right Monte Alban, southern Mexico (from bas- 
reliefs known as the dancers ) 243 

48 Hopewell culture, eastern United States (after Charles C. 

Willoughby. The Turner Group of Earthworks, Papers of 
the Peabody Museum, Harvard University, Vol. VIII, 
No. 3, 1922) 243 

49 Chavin, northern Peru (after Tello) 245 

50 Hopewell, eastern United States (after W. K. Moorehead, 

the Hopewell mound. . . . Field Museum, Chicago 

Anthropol. Series, Vol. VI, No. 5, 1922) 247 

51 Bamboo sticks guarding the approach-way to the village 340 

52 Detail of the paintings on the outside of a hut 343 

53 Another example of hut-paintings 345 





1 RAVEL and travellers are two things I loathe and 
yet here I am, all set to tell the story of my expeditions. But at least I ve 
taken a long while to make up my mind to it: fifteen years have passed 
since I left Brazil for the last time and often, during those years, I ve 
planned to write this book, but I ve always been held back by a sort of 
shame and disgust. So much would have to be said that has no possible 
interest: insipid details, incidents of no significance. Anthropology is 
a profession in which adventure plays no part; merely one of its 
bondages, it represents no more than a dead weight of weeks or months 
wasted en route; hours spent in idleness when one s informant has 
given one the slip; hunger, exhaustion, illness as like as not; and 
those thousand and one routine duties which eat up most of our days 
to no purpose and reduce our perilous existence in the virgin forest to 
a simulacrum of military service. . . . That the object of our studies 
should be attainable only by continual struggle and vain expenditures 
does not mean that we should set any store by what we should rather 
consider as the negative aspect of our profession. The truths that we 
travel so far to seek are of value only when we have scraped them clean 
of all this fungus. It may be that we shall have spent six months of 
travel, privation, and sickening physical weariness merely in order to 
record in a few days, it may be, or even a few hours an unpublished 
myth, a new marriage-rule, or a complete list of names of clans. But 
that does not justify my taking up my pen in order to rake over 
memory s trash-cans: At 5.30 a.m. we dropped anchor off Recife 
while the seagulls skirled around us and a flotilla of small boats put out 

from the shore with exotic fruits for sale 

And yet that sort of book enjoys a great and, to me, inexplicable 
popularity. Amazonia, Africa, and Tibet have invaded all our book 
stalls. Travel-boob, expeditionary records, and photograph-albums 
B 17 

!g Destinations 

abound; and as they are written or compiled with an eye mainly for 
effect the reader has no means of estimating their value. His critical 
sense once lulled to sleep, he asks only to be given more of the same 
and ends by devouring it in unlimited quantity. Exploration has 
become a profession; not, as one might suppose, that it s a matter 
of unearthing new facts in the course of several years laborious study 
not at all! Mere mileage is the thing; and anyone who has been far 
enough, and collected the right number of pictures (still or moving, 
but for preference in colour), will be able to lecture to packed houses 
for several days running. Platitudes take shape as revelations once the 
audience is assured that the speaker has sanctified them by travelling to 
the other side of the globe. 

For what do these books, these lectures, amount to? A luggage-list, 
a story or two about the misdemeanours of the ship s dog, and a few 
scraps of information scraps that have done a century s service in 
every handbook to the region. Only the speaker s impudence and the 
ignorance and naivety of his hearers could cause them to pass as an 
eye-witness account or even, for all I know, as an original discovery . 
Doubtless there are exceptions; every age has its authentic travellers, 
and among those who today enjoy the public s favours I could point 
to one or two who deserve the name. My aim, however, is neither to 
expose the one nor to authenticate the other, but rather to understand 
a moral and social phenomenon which is peculiar to France and is, even 
there, of recent origin. 

Not many people travelled professionally in the 19305, and those 
who returned to tell their tales could count not on five or six full 
houses at the Salle Pleyel, but on a single session in the little, dark, cold, 
and dilapidated amphitheatre that stood in a pavilion at the far end of 
the Jardin des Plantes. Once a week the Society of Friends of the 
Museum organized and may still organize, for all I know a lecture 
on the natural sciences. Lantern lectures , they were; but as the screen 
was too large for the projector, and the lamp too weak for the size of 
the hall, the images thrown were intelligible neither to the lecturer, 
who had his nose immediately beneath them, nor to the audience, who 
could with difficulty distinguish them from the huge patches of damp 
that disfigured the walls. A quarter of an hour before the appointed 
time there was always doubt as to whether anyone would come to the 
lecture, apart from the handful of habitu6s who could be picked out 
here and there in the gloom. Just when the lecturer was losing all hope, 
the body of the hall would half fill with children, each accompanied 

Departure 19 

by mother or nanny, some delighted by the prospect of a free change 
of scene, others merely craving relief from die dust and noise of the 
gardens outside. This mixture of moth-eaten phantoms and impatient 
youngsters was our reward for long months of struggle and hardship; 
to them we unloaded our treasured recollections. A session of this sort 
was enough to sever us for ever from such memories; as we talked on 
in the half-light we felt them dropping away from us, one by one, like 
pebbles down a well. 

If this, our return, had its funereal side, as much could have been 
said of our departure, which was signalized by a banquet held by the 
Franco- American Committee in a disused private house in what is now 
the Avenue Franklin Roosevelt. A caterer, hired for the occasion, had 
arrived two hours earlier and set up his apparatus of hot-plates and china 
and table-silver: too late, however, for a hasty airing to blow away 
the stench of desolation. 

No less unfamiliar to us than the solemnity of our surroundings was 
the aroma of fusty tedium with which they were permeated. There had 
been just time, quite clearly, to sweep clean the centre of the enormous 
saloon in which we were to dine, and it was at the table- dwarfed, like 
ourselves, by its environment that we made one another s acquaint 
ance for the first time. Most of us were young teachers who had only 
just begun work in provincial lycees; there had stretched before us a 
damp winter, with lodgings in a second-rate hotel in a market-town 
and an all-pervading smell of grog, cellars, and stale wine. And now, 
George Dumas slightly perverse whimsies were to whisk us away from 
all that and set us down in luxury-liners headed for the tropical seas: 
an experience which was to bear only the most distant resemblance to 
the stock notions of travel which were already forming within us. 

I had been one of Georges Dumas students at the time of the Traite 
de Psychologic. Once a week Thursday or Sunday morning, I can t 
remember which the philosophy students would go and hear him in 
one of the lecture-halls at the Hopital Sainte-Anne. The walls feeing 
the windows were covered with hilarious paintings by madmen; these 
set, from the very beginning, a peculiarly exotic note. Dumas was 
robustly built, with a body like a billhook and a great battered head 
that looked like a huge root which had been whitened and pared down 
by a sojourn on the sea-bed. He had a waxy complexion that unified 
his whole face with the white hair that he wore very short and en 
brosse and the little beard, also white, that grew in all directions at once. 
A curious fragment of vegetable matter, one would have said, with its 

20 Destinations 

rootlets still adhering to it, had not the coal-black gaze affirmed that 
it was beyond doubt a human being. The antiphony of black and white 
recurred in the contrast between the white shirt, with its starched and 
do wnturned collar, and the large-brimmed black hat, the black tie with 
its flowing knot, and the unvarying black suit. 

We never learnt much from his lectures. He never got them up 
in advance, because he knew that he never failed to cast a spell over his 
hearers. His lips, though deformed by a continual rictus, were mar 
vellously expressive; but it was above all the hoarse and melodious 
voice that did the trick. It was a veritable siren s voice, with strange 
inflections that took us back not only to his native Languedoc but to 
certain ancient modes of speech, musical variants that went beyond all 
regional considerations and partook of the quintessential music of 
spoken French. In voice, as in looks, Dumas evoked a particular style, 
at once rustic and incisive: the style of the French humanists of the 
sixteenth century the doctors and philosophers of whom he seemed 
to be the mental and bodily perpetuation. 

A second hour, and sometimes a third, was devoted to the presenta 
tion of individual cases . Often they were veterans who knew exactly 
what was wanted of them, and we would then witness astonishing 
displays of virtuosity in which they and the lecturer would vie with 
one another in cunning and guile. Some would produce their symptoms 
at exactly the right moment; others would offer just enough resistance 
to call for a display of bravura from the lecturer. The audience, though 
not taken in by these demonstrations, found them entirely fascinating. 
Those who won the maestro s particular favour were allowed a private 
interview with one or other of the patients. And never, in all my 
experience of primitive Indian tribes, was I as intimidated as I was by 
the morning I spent with an old woman who told me, from within 
her enveloping shawls, that she likened herself to a rotten herring 
buried deep in a block of ice: intact to all appearances, that is to say, 
but menaced with disintegration should the protective cover turn 
to water. 

Dumas was not above mystification; and the general syntheses of 
which he was the sponsor had, for all their ample design, a substructure 
of critical positivism which I found rather disappointing. And yet, as 
was to be proved later, he was a man of great nobility. Just after the 
armistice of 1940, and not long before his death, when he was almost 
blind and in retirement in his native village of Ledignan, he made a 
point of writing me a discreet and considerate letter, with no other 

Departure 21 

object than to put himself firmly on the side of those who had been the 
first to suffer from the turn of events. 

I have always regretted not knowing him in his first youth, when 
the scientific perspectives opened up by nineteenth-century psychology 
had sent him off, wild with excitement and bronzed as a conquistador, 
to make the spiritual conquest of the New World. Between Dumas 
and Brazilian society it was to be a case of love at first sight: a 
mysterious phenomenon, in which two fragments of a four-hundred- 
year-old Europe met and recognized one another and were all but 
joined together again. Certain essential elements had remained intact 
in both cases: in a southern Protestant family, on the one hand, and on 
the other in a fastidious, slightly decadent bourgeois society that was 
turning over at half speed in the tropics. George Dumas mistake was 
that he never grasped the authentically archaeological character of this 
conjunction. The Brazil that he wooed and won was only one of the 
possible Brazils, although it later seemed, when it came momentarily 
to power, to be the real one. In Dumas* Brazil the ground landlords 
were steadily moving their capital into industrial holdings financed 
from abroad; seeking for an ideological cover of some sort, they settled 
for a right-thinking parliamentarianism. Our students, meanwhile, 
were the offspring of recent immigrants or squireens who lived by the 
land and had been ruined by fluctuations in world prices; to them, 
Dumas friends were the grao fino a bitter phrase that meant the 
smart set . Oddly enough, the foundation of the University of Sao 
Paulo, which was Georges Dumas greatest achievement, made it 
possible for people of modest station to begin to climb up the ladder 
by obtaining the diplomas which allowed them access to the civil 
service. Our academic mission did, in fact, help to form a new elite. 
But neither Dumas nor, later, the Quai d Orsay would realize that this 
61ite was a very valuable creation. As a consequence it drew steadily 
clear of our influence. It aimed, of course, to do away with the 
feudal structure which we had introduced into Brazil; but we had, 
after all, introduced it partly as a surety for good behaviour, and partly 
as a way of passing the time. 

But, on that evening of the Franco-American dinner, neither my 
colleagues nor I and that goes, of course, for our wives, who were 
to accompany us had any idea of the role which we were to play, 
however involuntarily, in the evolution of Brazilian society. We were 
too busy taking stock of one another and avoiding, in so far as we 
could, the fatality of social error. Georges Dumas had just warned us 

22 Destinations 

that we must be prepared to lead the same life as our new masters: 
the life, that is to say, of Automobile Club, casino, and race-course. 
This seemed quite extraordinary to young teachers who had been 
earning twenty-six thousand francs a year; more recently so few were 
those who applied to go abroad our salaries had been tripled. 

Above all, Dumas had said, you must be well dressed/ And as he 
wanted to reassure us he added, with rather touching candour, that it 
could be done at no great expense, not far from the Halles, at an 
establishment calledALaCroix dejeannette, where they had fitted him 
out very acceptably when he had been a young medical student in 

On Board Ship 


E HAD no idea, in any case, that for the next 
four or five years our little group would constitute with a few rare 
exceptions the entire complement of first-class passengers on the 
Compagnie des Transports Maritimes passenger-and-cargo steamers 
which plied between France and South America. We had a choice of 
either second-class on the only luxury-liner which worked this route, 
or first-class on the humbler sort of vessel. The intriguers went by 
luxury-liner, paid the difference out of their own pockets, and hoped 
by so doing to rub shoulders with an Ambassador or two and in some 
way profit thereby. We others chose the bateau mixte; it took six days 
longer, but we were its masters and, what is more, it made many stops 
en route. 

How I wish today that I had realized twenty years ago the full 
value of what we were given! The unbelievable luxury, that is to say: 
the royal privilege of sharing with eight or ten others exclusive rights 
over the first-class deck, cabins, smoking-room, and dining-room on 
a ship built to carry a hundred or a hundred and fifty passengers. We 
were nineteen days at sea; our province was rendered almost illimitable 
by the lack of other passengers; our appanage went everywhere with 
us. After our second or third crossing we came back to our ships, our 
own way of life; and we knew by name, even before we got aboard, 
those sterling stewards from Marseilles, with their moustaches and 
their heavy-soled shoes, who overpowered us with their garlicky smell 
as they bent over us with supreme de poularde or filet de turbot. The 
meals, planned in any case on a Rabelaisian scale, became even 
more so from the fact that there were so few of us to sit down to 

That one civilization is ending and another beginning; that our 
world has suddenly found itself to be too small for the people who live 

24 Destinations 

in it: these are facts which became real to me, not because of figures or 
statistics or revolutions but because I happened, a few weeks ago, to 
make a certain telephone call. I had been playing with the idea of 
retrieving my youth by a return visit, after fifteen years, to Brazil. The 
answer was that I should need to book my cabin four months in 

And I had imagined that, since the establishment of regular air- 
services between France and South America, the sea route was the 
preserve of a few eccentrics! It is, alas, a mistake to suppose that because 
one element has been invaded the other has been set free. 

But in between the marvellous voyages of 1935 or thereabouts and 
the one to which I returned an immediate No there was one, in 1941, 
which was charged with symbolic meaning for the years to come. 
Shortly after the armistice I was invited to the New School for Social 
Research in New York. (This I owed in part to the friendly interest 
which had been taken in my work by Robert H. Lowie and Alfred 
Metraux, in part to the vigilance of relations of mine long settled in 
the U.S.A., and, finally, to the Rockefeller Foundation s scheme for the 
rescue of European scholars who might find themselves menaced by 
the German occupation.) The problem was: how to get there? My 
first idea was that I should pretend to be returning to Brazil in order 
to continue my pre-war researches there. I went to the ground-floor 
rooms in Vichy, where the Brazilian Embassy had set up its temporary 
home, and asked to have my visa renewed. The interview was cruelly 
brief. I was well known to the Ambassador, Luis de Souza-Dantas, and 
he would, in any case, have behaved in the same way had I not known 
him. He was just raising his hand to stamp my passport when one of 
his staff reminded him, in tones of chilling respect, that under the new 
regulations he could no longer renew visas. For several seconds his arm 
remained poised, and there was a look almost of entreaty in his eyes 
as he tried to make his junior turn aside for a moment. My passport 
once stamped, I could at least have left France, even if I could not get 
into Brazil. But he wouldn t; and at length the Ambassador had to let 
fall his hand wide of my passport. No visa for me; he handed me back 
my passport with a gesture of distress. 

I went back to my house in the Cevennes not far from where, at 
Montpellier in fact, I had been demobilized and began to hang about 
Marseilles harbour. Eventually I heard a rumour that a ship wpuld soon 
be sailing for Martinique, and, after a great deal of to-ing and fro-ing 
from quayside to office and back again, I discovered that this ship 

On Board Ship 25 

belonged to that same Compagnie des Transports Maritimes which 
had found such a faithful and exclusive clientele among the members 
of our academic mission to Brazil. The winter bise was blowing 
keenly when, in February 1941, 1 walked into the company s unheated 
and three-quarters-closed offices. The official was one who had been 
wont to come and greet us on the company s behalf. Yes, the ship did 
exist; yes, it would shortly be leaving. But I couldn t possibly go on it. 
Why not? Well, I didn t realize how things were; he couldn t explain, 
but it wouldn t be at all what it used to be. How, then? Oh, it would 
be endless, and so uncomfortable! He couldn t imagine my putting 
up with it. 

The poor man still saw me as a small-bore ambassador of French 
culture, but I saw myself as marked down for a concentration camp. 
Moreover, I had spent the previous two years, first in the virgin forests 
of Brazil, and later in one improvised billet after another in the course 
of a disorderly retreat that had taken me from the Maginot Line to 
Beziers by way of the Sarthe, the Correze, and the Aveyron: cattle- 
trains on the one hand and sheepfolds on the other: so that my inter 
locutor s scruples seemed to me out of place. I saw myself going back 
to my wandering life but on the oceans this time, sharing the labours 
and die frugal repasts of a handful of seamen, sailing hither and yon on 
a clandestine vessel, sleeping on deck, and gaining in health and 
strength from the day-long nearness of the sea. 

I did at last get a ticket for the Capitaine Paul Lemerle. When the 
time came to embark the quayside was cordoned off. Helmeted 
gardes-mobiles, with automatic pistols at the ready, severed all contact 
between passengers and the relatives or friends who had come to see 
them off. Good-byes were cut short by a blow or a curse. This was not 
the solitary adventure I had had in mind; it was more like the departure 
of a convict-ship. If I had been amazed by the way in which we were 
treated, I was dumbfounded by our numbers. Somehow or other we 
were to be three hundred and fifty on board a little steamer which 
as I lost no time in discovering could boast only two cabins, with 
in all seven couchettes. One of these cabins had been allotted to three 
ladies, and the other was shared between four men, of whom I was 
one. This favour I owed and may I thank him here and now to 
M.B., who felt that it was out of the question for one of his former 
first-class passengers to be quartered like a cow or a pig. And, indeed, 
all the other passengers men, women, and children had to pile into 
the dark and airless hold, where the ship s carpenters had made a 

26 Destinations 

rough scaffolding of beds, one on top of another, with pallets of straw 
for bedding. Of the four fortunate males, one was an Austrian, 
travelling in metals, who doubtless knew what he had paid for the 
privilege; the second was a young beke , a rich Creole, who had been 
cut off from his native Martinique by the war; he deserved special 
treatment in that he was the only person on board who was not 
presumed to be either a Jew, a foreigner, or an anarchist. The third was 
a mysterious North African who claimed to be going to New York 
for just a few days (in itself an extravagant notion, since we were to 
be three months en route), had a Degas in his luggage, and, although 
as Jewish as I myself, appeared to be persona grata with the police, 
immigration, and security authorities of every colony and protectorate 
that we touched upon: an astonishing and mysterious state of affairs, at 
that juncture, and one which I never managed to fathom. 

The scum, as the gendarmes described us, included among others 
Andre Breton and Victor Serge. Breton, by no means at his ease in such 
a situation, would amble up and down the rare empty spaces on deck, 
looking like a blue bear in his velvety jacket. We were to become firm 
friends in the course of an exchange of letters which we kept up 
throughout our interminable journey; their subject was the relation 
between aesthetic beauty and absolute originality. 

As for Victor Serge, the fact that he had been an associate of Lenin 
was all the more intimidating, because it was difficult to reconcile it 
with his looks, which were those of a maiden lady of high principles. 
The smooth and delicate features, piping voice, and stilted, hesitant 
manner added up to the almost asexual character that I was later to 
encounter among Buddhist monks on the frontiers of Burma; they 
were remote, certainly, from the superabundant vitality and positive 
temperament which French tradition accords to the so-called sub 
versive 3 agent. The point is that certain cultural types occur in all 
societies, because they result from straightforward antitheses; but their 
social function may differ widely from society to society. In Russia 
Serge s particular type had been able to make contact with reality in 
the course of a revolutionary career; elsewhere it might have found a 
very different oudet. The relations between any two societies would 
no doubt become very much easier if it were possible to establish, by 
the use of a sort of grille, a system of equivalences between the ways 
in which each would employ analogous human types in quite different 
social functions. Instead of confining ourselves, as we do now, to 
confrontations within certain professional groups (doctors with doctors, 

On Board Ship 27 

teachers with teachers, industrialists with industrialists) we might come 
to realize that there exist certain subtler correspondences between 
individuals and the roles they play. 

In addition to its human beings the ship was clearly carrying some 
sort of secret cargo. We spent an unconscionable amount of time both 
in the Mediterranean and on the west coast of Africa in putting into 
port after port seeking refuge, it appeared, from inspection by the 
Royal Navy. Holders of French passports were sometimes allowed to 
go ashore; the others had to stay parked in the few inches available to 
them. As we got steadily nearer to the tropics the heat made the hold 
more and more unbearable, and turned the deck into a mixture of 
dining-room, dormitory, nursery, wash-house, and solarium. But most 
unpleasant of all were the circumstances of what is sometimes called 
personal hygiene . The crew had erected on either side of the ship, 
port for the men and starboard for the women, two pairs of wooden 
cubicles. These had neither light nor air. The one had two or three 
douches which could be used for a short while each day; they were 
filled each morning. The other had in it a long wooden trench, roughly 
lined with zinc, which gave directly on to the ocean; you can guess its 
purpose. Not everyone likes promiscuity in such matters, and in any 
case the ship s rolling made it an unsteady business to squat in company: 
the only way round this problem was to get there betimes, with the 
result that the more fastidious passengers began to vie with one 
another, until in the end it was only at about three o clock in the 
morning that one could hope for some degree of privacy. People 
simply gave up going to bed. Two hours later the same situation arose 
in respect of the douches: once again modesty played its role and, in 
addition, the press soon grew so great that the water, insufficient from 
the start, was as if vaporized by contact with so many moist bodies and 
seemed no longer to get through to the skin. In both cases we all made 
haste to get on and get out. The unventilated huts were made of planks 
of green and resinous fir-wood; these planks, impregnated with filthy 
water, urine, and sea air, would ferment in the sun and give off a warm, 
sweet, and altogether nauseating smell, which, when mingled with 
other smells, soon became intolerable, more especially if a swell was 

After a month at sea we suddenly glimpsed, in the middle of the 
night, the lighthouse of Fort de France. And the hope which filled all 
our hearts was not that of enjoying, at long last, an eatable meal, a bed 
with real sheets, or a night s unbroken rest. No: these people who had 

2 g Destinations 

been used, on land, to what the English call the amenities of civiliza 
tion had suffered more from the unavoidable filth of these conditions 
aggravated as these were by great heat than ^ from hunger, or 
fatigue, or sleeplessness, or promiscuity, or others contempt. There 
were young and pretty women on board, and there had been the 
beginnings of flirtations. It was not simply from coquetry that these 
women wanted to make the most of themselves before all went their 
separate ways: it was rather an obligation, a debt to be honoured, a 
proof that they were not altogether unworthy of the attentions which 
they considered and with what charming delicacy! to have been 
theirs by token only. So that when the traditional cry of Land^land! 
was replaced by a unanimous shout of A bath, at last! A bath! there 
was something pathetic in it, as well as much that was comical. And 
everyone set about searching for the last morsel of soap, the undirtied 
towel, the clean blouse that had been held in reserve for this great 

Bathrooms are not all that common in Fort de France, and in our 
dreams of hydrotherapy we took, it may be, an unduly optimistic view 
of the effect of four centuries of colonization upon that island. We 
very soon learnt, in any case, that our filthy and overloaded ship was a 
floating Eden in comparison with the welcome that we were to 
receive. Hardly had we dropped anchor in the roads when The Military 
came aboard, in a state of cerebral derangement which would have 
offered a rewarding field of study, had I not needed all my intellectual 
capacities for the struggle to avoid disaster at their hands. 

Most French people had lived through the phoney war in ways 
which deserved that adjective: none more so, however, than the 
officers who formed the garrison on Martinique. Their sole duty was 
to guard the Bank of France s gold; but this had gradually foundered 
in a waking nightmare for which over-indulgence in rum punch was 
only partly responsible. No less fundamental to it, and perhaps even 
more insidious, were the position of the island, its remoteness from the 
homeland, and a rich local tradition of piracy. The one-eyed peg-legs 
of legend, with their golden ear-rings, had been replaced by phantoms 
born of inspection by the U.S. Navy and the secret activities of 
the German submarine fleet. Gradually there had spread among the 
garrison an obsessional fever amounting almost to madness; and this 
had gained ground in spite of the fact that never had a shot been fired 
in anger or an enemy been sighted in the light of day. As for the 
islanders, their talk revealed similar preoccupations, although they put 

On Board Ship 29 

them in more prosaic terms: Island s done for, if you ask me no more 
cod, they say, and so forth. Others held that Hitler was none other 
than Jesus Christ returned to earth to punish the white race for having 
neglected his teaching. 

When the armistice was announced all ranks sided with Vichy 
rather than with Free France. They hoped to remain at a safe distance 
from events ; physically and morally their resistance was at its minimum, 
and such fighting spirit as they had ever had had long been dissipated. 
It was a comfort for them to replace the real enemy one so distant 
that it had become for them a kind of abstraction by an imaginary 
foe that had the advantage of being near at hand and readily visible. 
They exchanged, that is to say, America for Germany. Two ships of 
the U.S. Navy kept a constant watch outside the harbour; an ingenious 
member of the French C.-in-C/s staff took luncheon on board one of 
them every day, while his superior busied himself with teaching his 
men to loathe and despise the Anglo-Saxons. 

To these people we were well-assorted specimens of The Enemy, 
on whom they could work off the aggression which they had been 
accumulating for months. We could also be held responsible for a 
defeat which seemed to them quite foreign to themselves, since they 
had taken no part in the fighting, but of which, in another sense, they 
felt themselves confusedly guilty. Had they not exemplified and carried 
to its farthest point the nonchalance, the power of self-delusion, and 
the lassitude to which France, or a part of France, had fallen a victim? 
It was a little as if the Vichy authorities, in allowing us to take ship for 
Martinique, had marked us out as a cargo of scapegoats on whom 
these gentlemen could work off their spleen. They installed themselves 
steel-helmeted, guns at the ready, wearing tropical shorts- in the 
captain s cabin; and when we appeared before them, one by one, it 
was not for the normal interview with the immigration authorities, 
but rather for an exercise in invective in which our role was to sit silent 
and listen. Those who were not French were treated as enemies of 
France; those who were French, on the other hand, had their Frenchness 
called grossly in question and were at the same time reproached for 
their cowardly abandonment of the motherland . . . reproaches, 
contradictory in themselves, which rang particularly oddly in the 
mouths of men who, since the day war was declared, had to all intents 
and purposes been living under the protection of the Monroe Doctrine. 

So it was good-bye to our baths! The authorities decided to intern 
the whole lot of us in a camp called the Lazaret on the other side of the 

3O Destinations 

bay. Only three of us were allowed to go ashore: the *b6ke , who had 
been ruled out of court, the mysterious Tunisian, who had had only 
to show certain of his papers, and myself. The captain of our ship had 
been second officer on one of the ships I had sailed in before the war; 
we had met, therefore, as old acquaintances, and he had induced the 
naval authorities to make an exception in my case 

3 The Antilles 


HEN the clocks struck two in the afternoon 
Fort de France was a dead town. There was no sign of life in the 
hovel-bordered main square , which was planted with palm-trees and 
overrun with rampant weeds a patch of dead ground, one would 
have thought, in which someone had left behind a statue of Josephine 
Tascher de la Pagerie, later Beauharnais. No sooner had the Tunisian 
and I checked into the deserted hotel than, still shaken by the events 
of the morning, we hired a car and set off towards the Lazaret, with the 
intention of comforting our companions and, more especially, two 
young German women who had led us to believe, during the voyage 
out, that they would be unfaithful to their husbands just as soon as 
they could get properly cleaned up. From this point of view the 
business of the Lazaret was yet another disappointment to us. 

As the old Ford stumbled up and down the rough tracks in first 
gear I had the pleasure of rediscovering many vegetable species which 
had been familiar to me in Amazonia. Here they had new names, 
however: caimite foifruta do condeza artichoke in shape, with the 
taste of a pear corrosol forgraviola, papaye for mammao, sapotille for 
mangabeira. Meanwhile I went over in my mind the morning s painful 
scenes and tried to relate them to others of the same sort. For my 
companions, who had for the most part been hurled into their present 
adventure after a lifetime of tranquillity, the soldiers mixture of im 
becility and spite appeared as a unique, exceptional, hardly credible 
phenomenon: they and their jailers were in the grip, they thought, of 
an international catastrophe such as had never before occurred. But I 
had seen much of the world in the preceding years, and the incident 
was of a kind with which I was not entirely unfamiliar. I knew that, 
slowly and steadily, humanity was breeding such situations as a sick 
body breeds pus. It was as if our race was no longer able to cope with 


^ Destinations 


its own numbers and with the problems greater every day that 
resulted from this. Facility of communication exacerbated these 
feelings alike on the material and the intellectual plane. And, in the 
French territory in question, war and defeat had accelerated a universal 
process, and facilitated the establishment of an infection that would 
never again disappear completely from the face of the world. No 
sooner would it have vanished in one place than it would appear in 
another. Not for the first time, I was experiencing those manifestations 
of stupidity, hatred, and credulity which all social groups secrete within 
themselves when history comes too close to them. 

Only a short while before, for instance, on my way home to 
France -it was a few months before the outbreak of war I went for 
a walk in the upper section of Bahia. As I went from one church to 
another there are said to be three hundred and sixty-five in all, one 
for each day of the year, and varying in their architectural and 
decorative style as if to fit the day and the season and photographed 
such architectural details as took my eye, I was pursued by a gang of 
half-naked little nigger boys who kept begging me to Tira o retrato! 
Tira o retrato! Take a picture of us! I found it touching that they should 
beg for a photograph that they would never see, rather than for a coin 
or two, and in the end I agreed to do as they asked. I hadn t gone 
another hundred yards when two plain-clothes policemen tapped me 
on the shoulder. They had kept me company since the outset of my 
walk; and now, they informed me, I had been caught in an act hostile 
to Brazil. My photograph, if put to use in Europe, would confirm the 
legend that some Brazilians have black skins, and that children in Bahia 
go barefoot. I was arrested not for long, happily, because the ship 
was about to sail. 

That ship brought me bad luck, undoubtedly. Something of the 
same kind had happened to me a few days before when I was 
embarking, this time, and the ship was still at the quayside in Santos 
harbour. Hardly was I on board when I was arrested and confined to 
my cabin by a senior officer of the Brazilian Navy in full-dress uniform 
and two marines with fixed bayonets. That mystery took four or five 
hours to unravel: the Franco-Brazilian expedition of which I had been 
in charge for a year had been subject to the rule by which all finds 
were to be shared between the two countries. The sharing was to be 
done under the supervision of the National Museum in Rio de Janeiro, 
and this museum had notified every port in Brazil that if I were to 
attempt to leave the country with more bows, arrows, and feather 

The Antilles 33 

head-dresses than had been allotted to France I must be put under 
immediate and close arrest. Subsequently the museum had changed 
its mind and decided to make over Brazil s share of the finds to a 
scientific institute in Sao Paulo; consequently our French share had to 
be despatched from Santos, and not from Rio. Meanwhile the previous 
instructions had been forgotten and not, therefore, countermanded; 
with the result that, in the eyes of the port authorities, I had committed 
a crime. 

Luckily, however, there still slumbered within every Brazilian 
official at that time a tradition of anarchy. Tags from Voltaire and 
Anatole France kept this tradition alive and had somehow been 
incorporated, even in the depths of the forest, as elements of Brazilian 
culture. (Once when I was in the interior I was forcibly embraced by 
an old man who, doubtless, had never seen a Frenchman before. Ah, 
monsieur, a Frenchman! he cried, almost in delirium. Ah, France! 
Anatole, Anatole! ) I d met enough Brazilians to know that I musl 
first show all possible deference to the Brazilian State, as a whole, and 
more especially to its maritime authorities. Next I tried to strike a note 
of deep feeling: and not withput success, for after several hours spent 
in a cold sweat I was leaving Brazil for good, our collections had 
been packed away with my library and my furniture, and I was haunted 
by visions of my possessions lying in pieces on the quayside as the ship 
drew out to sea I was able to dictate to my interlocutor the exact 
terms of his report. In this he took upon himself the glory of having 
averted an international incident, and in consequence a humiliation for 
Brazil, by allowing me to sail with my baggage intact. 

Perhaps I should have been less audacious had it been still possible 
for me to take the South American police system quite seriously. But 
something had happened, two months previously, to make this out of 
the question. I had had to change aeroplanes in a large village in Lower 
Bolivia. When the connection failed to arrive, my companion, Dr J. A. 
Vdlard, and myself were held up there for several days. Flying in 1938 
was very different from what it is now. In the remoter South American 
regions it had jumped several stages of progress and offered itself as a 
sort of mechanical pick-a-back for villagers who, hitherto, for lack of 
decent roads, had had to reckon on a four or five days journey, on foot 
or horseback, to their nearest market-town. And now it had suddenly 
become possible for them to get their hens and ducks to market in a 
matter of a few minutes flying time though with, as often as not, a 
delay in departure of a week or more. The little aeroplanes were 


34 Destinations 

crammed with barefooted peasants, farmyard animals, and cases too 
cumbrous to be dragged through the forest; and in the midst of all 
this was oneself, squat-legged on the floor. 

We were killing time in the streets of Santa Cruz de la Sierra when 
suddenly a police patrol, seeing strangers, put us under arrest. We were 
conducted, pending interrogation, to a room in the former palace of 
the Provincial Governor. An air of old-fashioned high comfort clung 
to the panelled saloon, with its glass-fronted bookcases, its rows of 
richly bound volumes, and the astonishing handwritten notice 
framed and glazed, likewise which I here transcribe from the Spanish: 
On pain of severe sanctions it is strictly forbidden to tear out pages 
from the archives for personal or hygienic purposes. All persons 
infringing this order will be punished. 

I must own that if my situation in Martinique took a turn for the 
better, it was thanks to the intervention of a high official of the Fonts et 
Chaussees whose opinions, though concealed beneath an appearance of 
frigid reserve, were very different from those current in official circles; 
perhaps I also owed something to my frequent visits to the offices of a 
religious review, where the Fathers of some Order or other had 
accumulated box upon box of archaeological remains, dating back to 
the Indian occupation. I spent my leisure hours in making an inventory 
of these 

One day I went into the Assize Courts, which were then in session. 
It was my first, and only, visit to a trial. The accused was a peasant who 
had bitten off a part of another peasant s ear in the course of a quarrel. 
Accused, plaintiff, and witnesses expressed themselves in a flood of 
Creole eloquence which seemed almost supernatural, in such a place, 
by reason of its crystalline freshness. All this had to be translated to 
the three judges, whose robes, scarlet in colour and trimmed with fur, 
had wilted in the heat and hung about them like bloodstained bandages. 
In five minutes exactly the irascible negro was condemned to eight 
years imprisonment. Justice had been, and is still, associated in my 
mind with the notions of doubt, and scruple, and respect. I was stupefied 
to find that a human life could be disposed of so quickly and with such 
nonchalance. I could hardly believe that it had really happened. Even 
today no dream, however fantastic or grotesque, can leave me so 
entirely incredulous. 

My travelling companions owed their release, meanwhile, to a 
difference of opinion between the maritime authorities and the 
Chamber of Commerce. To the one, they were spies and traitors; the 

The Antilles 35 

other saw them as a source of income which could not be exploited 
while they were locked up in the Lazaret. The shopkeepers got their 
way, in the end, and for a fortnight one and all were free to get rid 
of their last French francs. The police kept a dose watch on all this 
and did their best to involve all the passengers, and more especially 
the women, in a network of temptation, provocation, seduction, and 
reprisal. The Dominican Consulate was besieged with requests for 
visas, and every day brought new rumours of hypothetical ships which 
were on thek way to take us all a stage farther. A new situation 
developed when the villages of the interior grew jealous of the harbour- 
town and intimated that they too had the right to a share in the refugees. 
And, from one day to the next, the entire company was moved to the 
interior and told to stay there. I was exempt from this, once again, but 
in my anxiety to visit my lady-friends in thek new residence at the 
foot of the Mont Pele I came to cover on foot an unfamiliar and 
unforgettable part of the island. Thanks, in fact, to the machinations 
of the police I came to experience a form of exoticism more classical 
than that to be found on the mainland of South America: dark tree- 
agate, surrounded by a halo of beaches where the black sand was 
speckled with silver; valleys deep in a milk-white mist where a 
continual drip-drip allowed one to hear, rather than see, the enormous, 
soft, and feathery leafage of the tree-ferns as it foamed up from the 
living fossils of the trunks. 

Hitherto I had been luckier than my companions. I was pre 
occupied, none the less, with a problem which, if not satisfactorily 
solved, would have made it impossible for this book to be written. I 
had left France with a trunkful of material brought back from my 
expeditions: linguistic and technological files, travel-journals, field- 
notes, maps, plans, photographic negatives, thousands of sheets of 
paper, filing-cards, and rolls of film. It had already been very dangerous 
for thepasseur to get this heavy load across the line of demarcation, and 
it was clear to me from our welcome in Martinique that I must not 
allow Customs, police, or naval security authorities to get at my 
possessions. The vocabularies would certainly strike them as an 
elaborate system of codes, and the maps, plans, and photographs they 
would interpret as pieces of military information. I therefore declared 
the trunk luggage in transit and it was sealed up and left at the 
Customs. Later I managed to effect a compromise by which the trunk, 
if put dkecdy aboard a foreign ship, need not be opened by the 
Customs. And so it was that I set sail for Porto Rico on board a 

3 6 Destinations 

Swedish banana-boat. For four days on this dazzlingly white vessel 
I found myself back in pre-war conditions; the voyage was uneventful 
and there were only seven other passengers on board. 

I did well to make the most of it. For when I disembarked at 
Porto Rico two things became clear. One was that the U.S. immi 
gration laws had changed during the two months that had elapsed since 
I left Marseilles. The documents I had received from the New School 
for Social Research no longer sufficed for admission. Second, and 
above all, the American police, when faced with my load of anthro 
pological material, had their full share of the suspicions which I had 
feared to meet with in Martinique. In Fort de France I had been 
treated as a Jew and a Freemason who was probably in the pay of the 
Americans. Here, in Porto Rico, I was taken for an emissary of Vichy 
if not, indeed, of the Germans. I telegraphed to the New School to 
get me out of it, if they could, and the F.B.I. was asked to send a 
French-speaking specialist to examine my papers. (I trembled to think 
how long it would take to find a specialist who could decipher my 
notes, since these mostly related to the almost entirely unknown 
dialects of central Brazil.) Meanwhile I was interned, at the shipping 
company s expense, in an austere hotel in the Spanish style, where I 
was fed on boiled beef and chick-peas, while two filthy and ill-shaven 
native policemen took it in turns, night and day, to guard my door. 

So it was at Porto Rico that I made my first contact with the U.S.A. 
For the first time I smelt the lukewarm varnish and the wintergreen 
tea olfactory extremes between which is stretched the whole gamut 
of American comfort from motor-car to lavatory, by way of radio- 
set, pastry-shop, and toothpaste and I tried to find out what thoughts 
lay behind the farded masks of the young ladies in the drug-stores, with 
their mauve dresses and their chestnut hair. There too, in the rather 
special environment of the Grandes Antilles, I had my first glimpse of 
certain characteristics of American urban life. The flimsiness of the 
buildings, their preoccupation with effect, and their desire to catch the 
eye all were reminiscent of a Great Exhibition that had not been 
pulled down; at Porto Rico one seemed to, have strayed into the 
Spanish section. 

Ambiguities of this kind often confront the traveller. The fact of 
having passed my first weeks on American territory in Porto Rico 
made me feel, later, that Spain itself was Americanized. Similarly, the 
fact that my first glimpse of British University life was in the neo- 
Gothic precincts of the University of Dacca in eastern Bengal has since 

The Antilles 37 

made me regard Oxford as a part of India that has got its mud, its 
humidity, and its superabundant vegetation under surprisingly good 

The F.B.L inspector arrived three weeks after I came ashore at 
San Juan. I ran to the Customs house and threw open my trunk. A 
solemn moment! He was a well-mannered young man, but when he 
took up a card at random his face clouded over and he spat out the 
words: This is in German! It was, in effect, a note drawn from the 
classic work of von den Steinen, my illustrious and distant forerunner 
in the Mato Grosso: Unter den Naturvolkern Zentral-Braziliens, Berlin, 
1894. The long-expected specialist was reassured to hear of this, and 
before long he lost all interest in my concerns, and I found myself free 
to enter the U.S.A. 

But that s quite enough. Each one of these trifling adventures calls 
forth another from my memory; and I could summon up others, more 
recent, if I drew upon my travels in Ask during the post-war years. 
My charming inquisitor from the F.B.I. might not be so easily satisfied 
today. The atmosphere thickens, everywhere. 

4 The Quest for Power 

1 ALWAYS remember the first occasion on which I 
had some indication of the disturbances which lay below the surface 
of pre-war life. The incident was a ridiculous one; and yet, like a 
doubtful smell or a sudden shift in the wind, it was a portent of worse 
things to come. 

I had refused to renew my contract with the University of Sao 
Paulo, preferring to make an extended foray into the interior, and with 
this in view I left France some weeks earlier than the rest of my 
colleagues. For the first time in four years I was the only academic 
figure on board and, likewise for the first time, there were a great 
many passengers. Some were foreign business men, but most were 
members of a military mission on its way to Paraguay. The familiar 
shipboard scene was rendered unrecognizable by their presence; 
nothing remained of its old tranquillity. Officers and wives alike seemed 
to mistake the transatlantic voyage for a colonial expedition; and 
although they were to act as instructors to what was, after all, an army 
of no great pretensions, they behaved as if they were about to occupy a 
conquered country. And they made ready for this morally, at any 
rate by transforming the boat-deck into a barrack-square, with the 
civilian passengers enlisted as temporary natives . So blatant and so 
gross was the insolence involved that the other passengers did not know 
whereto go^ to be free from it; even the ship s officers felt uneasy. 
The mission s commanding officer was very different from his sub 
ordinates, and he and his wife were discreet and considerate in their 
behaviour; one day they sought me out in the quiet corner to which I 
had made my escape and, while showing a kindly interest in my 
activities, past and future, they gave me a clear hint that their role in 
the whole affair was that of witnesses who deplored the goings-on but 
could do nothing to prevent them. There was something mysterious 


The Quest for Power 39 

in it all; three or four years later I happened on the senior officer s name 
in a newspaper and realized that his personal situation had, in efiect, 
something of paradox about it. 

It was then that I learnt, perhaps for the first time, how thoroughly 
the notion of travel has become corrupted by the notion of power. No 
longer can travel yield up its treasures intact: the islands of the South 
Seas, for instance, have become stationary aircraft-carriers; the whole 
of Asia has been taken sick; shanty-towns disfigure Africa; commercial 
and military aircraft roar across the still virgin but no longer unspoilt 
forests of South America and Melanesia. . . . Travel, in such circum 
stances, can only bring us face to face with our historical existence in its 
unhappiest aspects. The great civilization of the West has given birth 
to many marvels; but at what a cost! As has happened in the case of 
the most famous of their creations, that atomic pile in which have been 
built structures of a complexity hitherto unknown, the order and 
harmony of the West depend upon the elimination of that prodigious 
quantity of maleficent by-products which now pollutes the earth. 
What travel has now to show us is the filth, our filth, that we have 
thrown in the face of humanity. 

I understand how it is that people delight in travel-books and ask 
only to be misled by them. Such books preserve the illusion of some 
thing that no longer exists, but yet must be assumed to exist if we are 
to escape from the appalling indictment that has been piling up against 
us through twenty thousand years of history. There s nothing to be 
done about it: civilization is no longer a fragile flower, to be carefully 
preserved and reared with great difficulty here and there in sheltered 
corners of a territory rich in natural resources: too rich, almost, for 
there was an element of menace in their very vitality; yet they allowed 
us to put fresh life and variety into our cultivations. All that is over: 
humanity has taken to monoculture, once and for all, and is preparing 
to produce civilization in bulk, as if it were sugar-beet. The same dish 
will be served to us every day. 

People used to risk their lives in India and America for the sake of 
returns which now seem to us derisory: redwood (bois de braise, from 
which comes the name of Brazil); red dye, or pepper, for which there 
was such a craze at the court of Henri IV that people carried a grain or 
two with them everywhere, in bonbonnieres; such things gave an extra 
stimulus to sight and smell and taste, and extended, as it were, the 
sensory keyboard of a civilization which had not recognized its own 
insipidity. Are we to draw a parallel with the Marco Polos of our own 

40 Destinations 

day who bring back from those same territories in the form, this 
time, of photographs the heightened sensations which grow ever 
more indispensable to our society as it founders deeper and deeper in 
its own boredom? 

Another parallel seems to me more significant. The red peppers 
of our own day are falsified, whether intentionally or not. This is not 
because their character is purely psychological; but because, however 
honest the traveller may be, he cannot, or can no longer, present them 
to us in their authentic form. Before we consent to accept them they 
must be sorted and sieved; and, by a process which in the case of 
the more sincere travellers is merely unconscious, the stereotype is 
substituted for the real. I open one of these traveller s tales : the author 
describes a certain tribe as savage and lightly sketches in a caricature 
of the habits which, according to him, have been preserved among 
them since the beginnings of time; but it happens that, when I was a 
student, I spent several years in the study of the books, some of them 
fifty years old, some quite recent, which men of science devoted to 
that same tribe before it was reduced, by contact with the whites and 
the epidemics that resulted from this, to a handful of uprooted wretches. 
Another group has been discovered and, in the space of forty-eight 
hours, studied by a traveller, a mere boy, who glimpsed them while 
they were being moved out of their territory. In his simplicity he 
mistook their temporary camp for a permanent village. Nor was 
anything said of the available means of approach to the area: the 
missionary post which for twenty years has maintained unbroken 
contact with the natives, and the little motor-boat line which runs 
deep into the interior. To an experienced eye this latter is instantly 
revealed by certain small details in the explorer s photographs; the 
trimmer has left in some of the rusted cans which show where these 
unknown people have set up their kitchen. 

If we examine the vanity of these pretensions, the naive credulity 
which not only welcomes them but calls them forth, and the talent 
which goes into these pointless activities (pointful they may be how 
ever, if they extend further the deterioration which, outwardly, they 
do their best to conceal) ; if we examine all these, we shall find that they 
appear to corresponds powerful psychological demands, alikein the per 
formers andintheirpublic; andthestudy of certain primitive institutions 
may help us to analyse the nature of these demands. Anthropology 
must help us, in short, to understand the fashion which has attracted in 
our direction so many auxiliaries who do us nothing but harm. 

The Quest for Power 41 

Among many North American tribes the social prestige of any 
particular individual is determined by the nature of the ordeal to 
which he has submitted himself in adolescence. Some have themselves 
cast off alone, on a raft, without food; others seek the isolation of the 
mountainside, where they are exposed to rain, and cold, and wild 
beasts. For days, weeks, months even in some cases, they go without 
cooked food; eating only raw stuffs, or fasting altogether for long 
periods, they accentuate their bodily dilapidation by the use of emetics. 
They do everything possible to break through to the world beyond: 
prolonged immersion in ice-cold baths, the voluntary amputation of 
one or more fingertips, and the tearing of the aponeuroses. (In this last 
instance wooden pins are thrust beneath the muscles of the back; to 
these pins are attached lengths of string, and on the end of each string 
is a heavy weight which the victim must haul along as best he can.) 
Not all go quite so far; but at the very least they must exhaust them 
selves in some pointless activity, plucking the hairs one by one from 
their bodies, or picking away at fir-branches until not a spine remains, 
or hollowing out a huge block of stone. 

Lassitude, weakness, and delirium result; and they hope, while in 
this state, to enter into communication with the supernatural world. 
Their prayers, and the intensity of their sufferings, will be rewarded; a 
magic animal will present itself to them, and in a vision there will be 
revealed to them both the spirit who will henceforth be their guardian 
and the particular power, derived from that spirit, which will define 
their rank, and the number of their privileges, within their social group. 

Could one say of these natives that Society has nothing to offer 
them? It is as if their customs and institutions seemed to them to 
function mechanically: luck, chance, and talent are of no avail, and the 
man who wishes to wrest something from Destiny must venture into 
that perilous margin-country where the norms of Society count for 
nothing and the demands and guarantees of the group are no longer 
valid. He must travel to where the police have no sway, to die limits 
of physical resistance and the far point of physical and moral suffering. 
Once in this unpredictable borderland a man may vanish, never to 
return; or he may acquire for himself, from among the immense 
repertory of unexploited forces which surrounds any well-regulated 
society, some personal provision of power; and when this happens an 
otherwise inflexible social order may be cancelled in favour of the man 
who has risked everything. 

This would be, none the less, a superficial interpretation. The 

,- Destinations 


question among these North American tribes is not one of the anti 
thesis between individual convictions and the doctrines of Society. The 
dialectic springs directly from the customs and the philosophy of the 
group. From the group the individual learns his lesson; the belief in 
guardian spirits is the creation of the group, and Society as a whole 
teaches its members that their only hope of salvation, within the 
established social order, lies in an absurd, and despairing attempt to get 
free of that order. 

Quite clearly the relationship between the French public of today 
and its favourite explorers is a naive variant of this ancient convention. 
Our adolescents, like those of the North American Indians, are en 
couraged to get clear, by one means or another, of civilization. Some 
climb mountains; some go far below ground; others escape horizon 
tally and penetrate some distant land. Or it may be that the sought- 
after extremity lies in the moral sphere; some choose to be put in 
situations so difficult that, as far as we can now tell, they cannot 
possibly survive them. 

Society is completely indifferent to the rational consequences, if one 
may so describe them, of these adventures. Scientific discovery plays 
no part in them. Nor can they be considered to enrich the literature of 
the imagination ; for very often they are abominably written. It s the 
attempt that counts, and not its object. Once again the parallel is very 
close: any young man who isolates himself for a few weeks or months 
from the group and exposes himself to an extreme situation of any sort 
may count on being invested, on his return, with a kind of magic 
power. (Some of our contemporaries are men of sincere conviction, 
some are sly and calculating; these same distinctions occur in primitive 
societies also.) In our world the power comes out in newspaper articles, 
best-selling books, and lectures with not an empty seat in the hall. Its 
magic character is evident in the process of auto-mystification of the 
group and by the group which is, in every case, the basis of the 
phenomenon. Lofty and lucrative are the revelations which these 
young men draw from those enemies of Society savages, snowbound 
peaks, bottomless caves, and impenetrable forests which Society 
conspires to ennoble at the very moment at which it has robbed them 
of their power to harm. Noble they are today, but when they were 
really the adversaries of Society they inspired only terror and disgust. 
Today the savages of the Amazonian forests are caught, like game- 
birds, in the trap of our mechanistic civilization. I can accept as 
inevitable the destruction of these vulnerable and powerless beings; 

The Quest for Power 43 

what I will not be deceived by, on the other hand, is the black magic , 
more paltry even than their own, which brandishes before an eager 
public an album in full colour . Now that the Indians masks have 
been destroyed, these albums have taken their place. Perhaps our 
readers hope, by the intermediacy of these colour-plates, to take on 
something of the Indian s charms? To have destroyed the Indians is not 
enough the public may, indeed, not realize that the destruction has 
taken place and what the reader wants is tb satisfy, in some sort, the 
cannibal-instincts of the historical process to which the Indians have 
already succumbed. 

Myself the already-grey predecessor of these explorers , I may well 
be the only white traveller to have brought back nothing but ashes 
from my journeys. Perhaps my voice alone will be heard to say tihaC 
travel no longer offers an escape? Like the Indian in the legend, I have 
been to the world s end and there asked questions of people, and of 
things; and like him I was disappointed with what I heard* An4 he 
stood there, in tears; praying and groaning aloud. And he heard no 
mysterious sounds; nor did he fall asleep, to be carried away while 
sleeping to the temple of the magic animals. He could doubt no longer; 
no power, from any source, had been given to him. . . . 

Missionaries used to speak of dreams as the savage s god , but 
through my hands, at any rate, they have always slipped like mercury. 
Where did I sense some small part, some glittering particle of their 
power? At Cuiaba, where the earth once yielded gold by the nugget? 
At Ubatuba, the now-deserted port where two centuries ago the great 
galleons put in to load? Flying over the Arabian desert, pink-and- 
green-streaked like the mother-of-pearly ear-shell? In America or in 
Asia? On the Newfoundland banks, the plateaux of Bolivia, or the 
hills on the frontiers of Burma? I choose at random a name still charged 
with the authority of legend: Lahore. 

A landing-ground, vaguely in the suburbs; interminable avenues, 
tree-lined, villa-bordered; and then, in an enclosure, an hotel remini 
scent of a Normandy stud-farm, where a number of identical buildings, 
with doors opening directly on to the road, were laid out like so many 
diminutive stables. Each door opened on to a uniform apartment: 
sitting-room, bedroom, bathroom. Haifa mile or more away, along 
the avenue, was a little square, such as one finds in a French market- 
town, and at considerable intervals along the avenues that stretched out, 
star-w&e, from that square there were three or four shops : chemist, photo 
grapher, bookseller, watchmaker. A captive in these unmeaningful 

. . Destinations 


expanses, I felt my objective slipping beyond reach. Where could 
it be, the old, the authentic Lahore? To get to it, at the far end 
of the badly kid-out and already , decrepit suburbia, one had to 
cross a lengthy bazaar-area, in which were to be found cosmetics, 
medicines, imported plastic materials, and shoddy jewellery made, 
this kst, by the operation of a mechanical saw on gold the thickness of 
white lead. As I sought for the real Lahore at the end of those shaded 
alleys I had constantly to flatten myself against the wall: flocks of sheep 
were passing sheep with pink and blue lights in their wool or 
buffaloes, each as big as three cows, or, most often, lorries. Perhaps the 
secret ky with the wooden buildings that were falling to pieces from 
sheer old age? I could have appreciated the lacy, finely chiselled working 
of the wood had I not been kept at a distance by the metallic spider s 
web of primitive electric wiring that crossed and criss-crossed from one 
wall to the next. From time to time, too, and for the space of two or 
three paces, an image or an echo would rise up from the recesses of 
time: in the little street of the beaters of silver and gold, for instance, 
there was a clear, unhurried tinkling, as if a djinn with a thousand arms 
was absent-mindedly practising on a xylophone. No sooner was I out 
of this labyrinth than I came to the area where huge avenues have been 
sketched out among the ruins (due, these, to the riots of the recent 
years) of houses five hundred years old. So often, however, have these 
houses been destroyed and patched together again, so absolute is their 
decrepitude, that the notion of period has no meaning in their context. 
And that is how I see myself: traveller, archaeologist of space, trying 
in vain to repiece together the idea of the exotic with the help of a 
particle here and a fragment of debris there. 

At this point Illusion begins to set its insidious traps. I should have 
liked to live in the age of real travel, when the spectacle on offer had 
not yet been blemished, contaminated, and confounded; then I could 
have seen Lahore not as I saw it, but as it appeared to Bernier, 

Tavernier, Manucci There s no end, of course, to such conjectures. 

When was the right moment to see India? At what period would the 
study of the Brazilian savage have yielded the purest satisfaction and 
the savage himself been at his peak? Would it have been better to have 
arrived at Rio in the eighteenth century, with Bougainville, or in 
the sixteenth, with Lery and Thevet? With every decade that we 
travelled further back in time, I could have saved another costume, 
witnessed another festivity, and come to understand another system of 
belief. But I m too familiar with the texts not to know that this back- 

The Quest for Power 45 

ward movement would also deprive me of much information, many 
curious facts and objects, that would enrich my meditations. The 
paradox is irresoluble: the less one culture communicates with another, 
the less likely they are to be corrupted, one by the other; but, on the 
other hand, the less likely it is, in such conditions, that the respective 
emissaries of these cultures will be able to seize the richness and 
significance of their diversity. The alternative is inescapable: either I 
am a traveller in ancient times, and faced with a prodigious spectacle 
which would be almost entirely unintelligible to me and might, indeed, 
provoke me to mockery or disgust; or I am a traveller of our own day, 
hastening in search of a vanished reality. In either case I am the loser 
-and more heavily than one might suppose; for today, as I go groaning 
among the shadows, I miss, inevitably, the spectacle that is now taking 
shape. My eyes, or perhaps my degree of humanity, do not equip me 
to witness that spectacle; and in the centuries to come, when another 
traveller revisits this same place, he too may groan aloud at the 
disappearance of much that I should have set down, but cannot. I am 
the victim of a double infirmity: what I see is an affliction to me; and 
what I do not see, a reproach. 

For a long time I was paralysed by this dilemma, but now it seems 
to me that the cloudy liquid is beginning to clear. To what is this due, 
if not to the passage of time? Forgetfulness has done its work among 
my recollections, but it has not merely worn them thin, not merely 
buried them. It has made of these fragments a construction in depth that 
offers firmer ground beneath the feet and a clearer outline for the eye. 
One order has been substituted for another. Two cliffs mark the distance 
between my eye and its object; in the middle ground Time, which 
eats away at those cliffs, has begun to heap up the debris. The high 
ridges begin to fall away, piece by considerable piece; Time and Place 
come into opposition, blend oddly with one another, or become 
reversed, like sediment shaken clear by the trembling of a withered skin. 
Sometimes an ancient and infinitesimal detail will come away like a 
whole headland; and sometimes a complete layer of my past will 
vanish without trace. Unrelated events, rooted in the most disparate 
of regions and periods, suddenly come into contact with one another 
and take shape as a crusader castle which owes its architecture not to 
my private history but to some altogether wiser designer. As Chateau 
briand wrote in his Voyage en Italic: Every man carries within himself 
a world made up of all that he has seen and loved; and it is to this 
world that he returns incessantly, though he may pass through, and 

46 Destinations 

seem to inhabit, a world quite foreign to it/ Henceforth I can pass 
from one of these worlds to the other. Between life and myself, Time 
has laid its isthmus; and it is a longer one than I had expected. Twenty- 
years forgetfulness has enabled me to elucidate an old experience: one 
that I had pursued to the ends of the earth without managing either to 
decipher its meaning or to remain on intimate terms with it. 


From a Log-book 

5 A Backward Glance 

IVlY CAREER was initiated one Sunday morning 
in the autumn of 1934. At nine o clock the telephone rang. It was 
Celestin Bougie, who was then the Director of the cole Normale 
Superieure. For several years he had taken a kindly interest in my 
affairs; and if that interest had hitherto been rather distant, and that 
kindness entirely inactive, it was first because I was not a Normalien, 
and above all because, even if I had been one of his former students, I 
should not have been a member of the group whom Bougie held in 
exclusive esteem. No doubt he had turned to me as a last resort. D you 
still want to do ethnography? he asked without preamble. Why, of 
course! Then apply at once for the post of Professor of Sociology at 
Sao Paulo University. The outskirts are full of Indians and you can 
spend your week-ends studying them. But you must give Georges 
Dumas a definite answer before twelve this morning. 

Neither Brazil nor South America meant much to me at that time. 
But I can still see, in every detail, the images which formed in my mind 
in response to this unexpected suggestion. Tropical countries, as it 
seemed to me, must be the exact opposite of our own, and the name 
of Antipodes had for me a sense at once richer and more ingenuous 
than its literal derivation. I should have been astonished to hear it said 
that any species, whether animal or vegetable, could have the same 
appearance on both sides of the globe. Every animal, every tree, every 
blade of grass, must be completely different and give immediate notice, 
as it were, of its tropical character. I imagined Brazil as a tangled mass 
of palm-leaves, with glimpses of strange architecture in the middle 
distance, and an all-permeating smell of burning perfume. This latter 
olfactory detail I owe, I think, to an unconscious awareness of the 
assonance between the words BrfoT (Brazil) and grtsftkr (sizzle), No 
D 49 

5O From a Log-book 

amount of later experience, in any case, can prevent me from still 
thinking of Brazil in terms of burning scent. 

Now that I look back on them, these images no longer seem to me 
so arbitrary. I have learnt that the truth of any given situation does 
not yield so much to day-to-day observation as to that patient and 
fractionated distillation which the equivocal notion of burning scent 
was perhaps already inviting me to put into practice. The scent brought 
with it, it may be, a symbolic lesson which I was not yet able to 
formulate clearly. Exploration is not so much a matter of covering the 
ground as of digging beneath the surface: chance fragments of land 
scape, momentary snatches of life, reflections caught on the wing- 
such are the things that alone make it possible for us to understand and 
interpret horizons which would otherwise have nothing to offer us. 

Quite other problems, meanwhile, resided in the wild promise 
which Bougie had made me. How could he have come to suppose that 
Sao Paulo, or its outskirts, comprised a native settlement? Doubtless he 
was confusing it with Mexico City or Tegucigalpa. The philosopher 
who had written a book on the caste regime in India without wonder 
ing for one moment if it would not be better to go there and see for 
himself (What was the lofty phrase he had used in his preface of 1927? 
That in the flux of events it is institutions that float free ) was not the 
man to suppose that the condition of the Brazilian native could yield 
serious ethnographical results. Nor was he the only one of the official 
sociologists to profess this indifference: others of the breed are still 
with us. 

Be that as it may, I was too innocent not to welcome an illusion 
that so happily seconded my intentions. Georges Dumas, as it happened, 
was equally ill-informed: he had known southern Brazil at a time when 
the extermination of the native population was not yet concluded; and, 
moreover, he had enjoyed the society, unenlightening in that respect, 
of dictators, feudal lords, and Maecenases. 

I was therefore very much surprised to hear, at a luncheon-party 
to which Victor Margueritte had taken me, the official point of view in 
such matters. The speaker was the Brazilian Ambassador in Paris: 
Indians? he said. Alas, my dear sir, the Indians have all been dead and 
gone for many a year. It s a sad page yes, and a shameful one in the 
history of my country. But the Portuguese colonists in the sixteenth 
century were a brutal, money-grubbing lot. Who are we to reproach 
them if they behaved as everyone else behaved at that time? They used 
to grab hold of the Indians, tie them to the cannons mouth, and blow 

A Backward Glance 51 

them to pieces. That s how they went, every man Jack of them. 
There ll be plenty to interest you, as a sociologist, in Brazil but as 
for the Indians, you d better forget about them, because you ll never 
find a single one. . . . 

Today it seems to me incredible that even a graofino, and even in 
1934, should have talked in this way. But at that time things are 
different now, I m glad to say the Brazilian upper classes could not 
bear to hear the natives mentioned. The primitive conditions which 
existed in the interior of Brazil were likewise taboo, unless it were a 
question of admitting or even suggesting that an Indian great- 
grandmother might have been responsible for a certain barely per 
ceptible exoticism of feature. There was never any mention of those 
drops, or rather those pints, of black blood on which their ancestors of 
the Imperial era had prided themselves, but which they now preferred 
to forget. And yet it was undeniable, for instance, that Luis de Souza- 
Dantas was of predominantly Indian descent; he could, indeed, have 
afforded to boast of it. But he was an export Brazilian , and France 
had been his adopted country ever since his adolescence. He had lost 
all contact with the real Brazil, preferring to substitute for it a lay-figure 
of officialdom and high breeding. Certain things he could hardly have 
forgotten: but no doubt he found it more convenient to blow upon 
the memory of the Brazilians of the sixteenth century than to tell his 
hearers of the way in which the men of his parents* generation and 
even, in some cases, those of his own had amused themselves. Their 
favourite pastime had been to call at the hospital for the clothes left 
behind by those who had died of small-pox: these they would then 
strew, together with other presents, along the lanes still used by the 
natives. This brought about the following brilliant result: that whereas 
in 1918 two-thirds of the State of Sao Paulo (as big as France, by the 
way) was marked on the map as unexplored territory, inhabited only 
by Indians , not one single native Indian was left at the time of my 
arrival in 1935 with the exception of a few isolated families on the 
coast, who sold so-called curiosities every Sunday on the beaches of 
Santos. So that there were no Indians in the outskirts of Sao Paulo; but 
luckily they were still to be found some two thousand miles away, in 
the interior. 

I cannot pass over this period without kindly mention of a quite 
different world. It was Victor Margueritte the same who introduced 
me to the Brazilian Ambassador who made it possible for me to 
glimpse it. I had been his secretary for a short while during my last 

52 From a Log-book 

years as a student, and lie remained kindly disposed towards me. My 
task had "been to help to launch one of his books La Patrie Humaine 
by taking round to some five score Parisian personalities a copy which 
the Master (for so he liked to be called) had himself inscribed for them. 
Thad also to draft reviews and paragraphs of inside gossip which might 
lighten the critics work and generally set them on the right road. If 
I still remember Victor Margueritte, it is not only because he always 
treated me so well, but because (as is the case with all that makes a 
lasting impression upon me) of the contradiction which existed 
between himself and his work. Margueritte himself was as memorable 
as his work was over-simplified and, for all its warmth of nature, 
disagreeable of access. His features had the grace of a Gothic angel, and 
something of that angel s femininity, and there was something so 
iioble and so natural about his manner that even his failings, of which 
vanity was not the least, did not shock or irritate but seemed rather as 
auxiliary evidence of some privilege either of blood or of intellect. 

He lived over towards the iyth arrondissement in a large old- 
fashioned middle-class apartment. He was nearly blind, and his wife 
took all possible care of him. As a young woman she had probably 
been admired for a certain piquancy of looks and manner; but with age, 
which renders impossible the confusion of moral with merely physical 
characteristics, this piquancy had been broken down into ugliness, on 
the one hand, and over-animation on the other. 

He entertained hardly at all not only because he supposed himself 
to be largely unknown among the younger generation but, above all, 
because he had set himself upon a pedestal so lofty that it was becoming 
difficult for him to find people good enough for himself to talk to. 
Wittingly or not (that I could never judge) he had banded together 
with a few others to found an international brotherhood of supermen, 
five or six in number: himself, Keyserling, Ladislas Reymond, Romaiii 
Rolland, and I believe, for a time Einstein. The basis of the system 
was that whenever any member of the group published a book the 
others, though scattered all over the world, would hurry to salute it 
as one of the highest manifestations of human genius. 

But what was really touching about Victor Margueritte was the 
simplicity with which he wished to sum up, in his own person, the 
whole history of French literature. This was all the easier for him in that 
he came of literary stock: his mother was a first cousin of Mallarm6: 
anecdote and reminiscence could always be called in to support his 
affectations. Zola, the Goncourts, Balzac, and Hugo were talked of 

A Backward Glance 53 

at the Marguerittes as if they were uncles and grandparents whose 
appointed trustee he was. They say I ve no style! he would cry. But 
when did Balzac have style, after all? And you would have thought 
yourself in the presence of one who, himself descended from ruling 
monarchs, would explain away his outbursts by allusion to the 
imperious temperament of some royal forbear. A legendary tempera 
ment, this, which the common run of mortals would speak of, not 
as a characteristic that they might share, but as the accepted explanation 
of some great upheaval in contemporary history. It was with a shiver, 
but a shiver of pleasure, that they would see it reborn in Monsieur 
Margueritte. Other writers have had more talent; but few, I think, have 
forged for themselves so graceful, and above all so aristocratic, a 
conception of their profession. 

6 How I became an Anthropologist 

1 WAS reading for a philosophy degree not because 
I had any true vocation for philosophy, but because I had sampled 
other branches of learning and detested them, one and all. I had begun 
my philosophy classes with a vague liking for a form of rationalistic 
monism. This I meant to justify and reinforce, and to this end I pulled 
every string to get put up to the teacher who was reputedly the most 
advanced in his views. Gustave Rodrigues was, as a matter of fact, an 
active member of the S.F.I.O.; but as far as philosophy was concerned 
his mixture of Bergsonism and neo-Kantianism was a sad disappoint 
ment to me. Arid and dogmatic as he was, he advanced his views with 
great fervour from the first lecture to the last, gesticulating the while 
like a man possessed. Never have I seen such skimpy intellectual 
processes put forward with such ingenuous conviction. He killed 
himself in 1940 when the Germans entered Paris. 

It was then that I began to learn how any problem, whether grave 
or trivial, can be resolved. The method never varies. First you establish 
the traditional two views of the question. You then put forward a 
commonsense justification of the one, only to refute it by the other. 
Finally you send them both packing by the use of a third interpretation, 
in which both the others are shown to be equally unsatisfactory. 
Certain verbal manoeuvres enable you, that is, to line up the traditional 
antitheses as complementary aspects of a single reality: form and 
substance, content and container, appearance and reality, essence and 
existence, continuity and discontinuity, and so on. Before long the 
exercise becomes the merest verbalizing, reflection gives place to a kind 
of superior punning, and the accomplished philosopher may be 
recognized by the ingenuity with which he makes ever-bolder play 
with assonance, ambiguity, and the use of those words which sound 
alike and yet bear quite different meanings. 


How I became an Anthropologist 55 

Five years at the Sorbonne taught me little but this form of mental 
gymnastics. Its dangers are, of course, self-evident: the mechanism is 
so simple, for one thing, that there is no such thing as a problem which 
cannot be tackled. When we were working for our examinations and, 
above all, for that supreme ordeal, the legon (in which the candidate 
draws a subject by lot, and is given only six hours in which to prepare 
a comprehensive survey of it), we used to set one another the bizarrest 
imaginable themes, I brought myself to the point at which, given ten 
minutes preparation, I could lecture for an hour on the respective 
merits of the tramway and the omnibus and miss not one of the 
arguments for either side. The method, universal in its application, 
encouraged the student to overlook the many possible forms and 
variants of thought, devoting himself to one particular unchanging 
instrument. Certain elementary adjustments were all that he needed: it 
was as if music could be reduced to one single tune, as soon as he 
realized that it was played sometimes in G Major and sometimes in F. 
From this point of view philosophy, as taught at the Sorbonne, 
exercised the intelligence but left the spirit high and dry. 

It seems to me even more dangerous to confuse the advance of 
knowledge with the growing complexity of intellectual organization. 
We were invited to bring into being a dynamic synthesis in which we 
would start from the least adequate of philosophical systems and 
end by appraising the subtlest among them. But at the same time (and 
because all our teachers were obsessed with the notion of historical 
development) we had to explain how the latter had gradually grown 
out of the former. Philosophy was not andlla sdentiarum, the handmaid 
and auxiliary of scientific exploration: it was a kind of aesthetic 
contemplation of consciousness by consciousness. We watched self- 
consciousness in its progress through the ages elaborating construc 
tions ever lighter and more audacious, resolving problems of balance 
and implication, inventing refinements of logic; and the more absolute 
the technical perfection, the more complete the internal coherence, the 
greater was the system in question. It was as if the student of art- 
history had been taught that Gothic was necessarily better than 
Romanesque, and flamboyant Gothic better than primitive Gothic, 
without stopping to wonder what was beautiful and what was not. 
The signification was what mattered, not the thing signified: nobody 
connected the one with the other. Know-how had taken the place of 
the passion for truth. After spending several years on exercises of this 
sort I found myself still falling back, when alone, on unsophisticated 

56 From a Log-book 

convictions which I had held, more or less, since I was a boy of 
fourteen. I was better able, perhaps, to see where they fell short of my 
needs; but at least they were instruments adapted to my purpose, and 
I was in no danger either of being deluded by their internal compli 
cation or of forgetting, in the excitement of watching the marvellous 
machinery go round, that it was meant to serve practical ends. 

I also had my own personal reasons for turning away in disgust 
from professional philosophy and looking to anthropology for my 
salvation. My first year as a teacher at the Lycee de Mont-de-Marsan 
had been a happy one, for I had been able to work out the syllabus of 
my courses as I went along. At the beginning of the next year I went to 
Laon, where I had been transferred, and was horrified to find that for 
the rest of my life I should have to go on giving the same lectures. Now, 
my mind has the particularity and it may well be an infirmity that I 
find it difficult to concentrate twice on the same subject. Most people 
consider their University finals as an inhuman ordeal by which, whether 
they like it or not, they earn the right to relax for the rest of their lives. 
For me it was just the opposite. Though the youngest in my year, I had 
got through at my first attempt, steeplechasing at my ease through 
doctrines, theories, and hypotheses. My ordeal began later: it proved 
physically impossible for me to address my students if I were not 
delivering an entirely new series of lectures. This incapacity proved an 
even greater embarrassment when I had to appear in the role of exam 
iner; I would take questions at random from the examination-schedule 
and find that I no longer knew even what answers the candidates 
should have given. Even the fatuous among them seemed to me to say 
all that there was to be said. It was as if the subjects dissolved before me 
from the mere fact of my once having applied my mind to them. 

Today I sometimes wonder if I was not attracted to anthropology, 
however unwittingly, by a structural affinity between the civilizations 
which are its subject and my own thought-processes. My intelligence 
is neolithic: I have not the gift of regular sowing and reaping, year by 
year, in one particular field. Like a brush-fire, my mind burns its way 
into territory which may sometimes prove unexplored; sometimes 
these excursions prove fertile, and I snatch at a harvest or two, leaving 
devastation behind me. But, at the time of which I am writing, I knew 
nothing of these deep-lying motives. I knew nothing of ethnology, and 
had never studied it systematically; when Sir James Frazer paid his last 
visit to the Sorbonne and gave a memorable lecture there in 1928, I 
think it never entered my head to go and hear him. 

How I became an Anthropologist 57 

I had, as matter of feet, been making a collection of exotica since 
my early childhood. But I did this purely as an antiquarian, and an 
antiquarian in search of a field he could afford. When I reached 
adolescence I was so far from having shown any one particular bent 
that the first person who tried to plumb the matter my philosophy 
teacher at school: Andre Cresson was his name considered that I was 
temperamentally best suited to the study of law. I have always been 
very grateful for the half-truth which underlay his mistake. 

I therefore gave up the idea of the cole Normale, and put my name 
down for law school. I went on reading for a philosophy degree, none 
the less, because it looked so easy. A curious fatality hangs over the 
teaching of law. Sandwiched between theology, with which it had 
certain intellectual affinities at that time, and journalism, towards which 
recent reforms have sent it swerving, it seems unable to find firm and 
objective ground on which to take its stand. The firmer it is, the less 
objective: and vice versa. Himself a subject for serious study, the jurist 
is, to me, like an animal trying to explain to a zoologist the work 
ings of a magic lantern. At that time, as luck would have it, law 
examinations could be got up in a fortnight, if one learnt certain aides- 
memoire by heart. And if law study was sterile, the law student was 
himself a repulsive creature. Whether the distinction is still valid, I 
can t say, but in 1928 or thereabouts first-year students could be 
divided into two species two races, I might almost say law and 
medicine on the one hand, letters and natural sciences on the other. 

Little as I care for the terms extrovert 5 and introvert , they are 
doubtless the best way of defining the antithesis. On the one hand, 
youth (in the sense in which traditional folklore employs the word 
to designate a certain age-class): noisy, aggressive, out to make itself 
felt by no matter what vulgar means, politically (at that time) drawn 
to the extreme right; and, on the other side, adolescents already 
middle-aged, solitary, untalkative, in general Left-minded, and hard 
at work making their way among the grown-ups whom they were 
schooling themselves to resemble. 

This difference is quite easily explained. The apprentice doctors and 
lawyers had a profession ahead of them. Their behaviour reflected their 
delight in having left school behind and assumed a sure place in the 
social system. Midway between the undifferentiated mass of the lycee 
and the specialized activity which lay before them, they felt themselves 
in, as it were, the margin of life and claimed the contradictory 
privileges of the schoolboy and of the professional man alike. 

58 From a Log-book 

Where letters and the sciences are concerned, on the other hand, the 
usual outlets teaching, research-work, and a variety of ill-defined 
careers are of quite a different character. The student who chooses 
them does not say good-bye to the world of childhood: on the contrary 
he hopes to remain behind in it. Teaching is, after all, the only way 
in which grown-ups can stay on at school. Those who read letters or 
the sciences are characterized by resistance to the demands of the 
group. Like members, almost, of some monastic order they tend to 
turn more and more in upon themselves, absorbed in the study, 
preservation, and transmission of a patrimony independent of their own 
time: as for the future savant, his task will last as long as the universe 
itself. So that nothing is more false than to persuade them that they are 
committed; even if they believe that they are committing themselves 
the commitment does not consist in accepting a given role, identifying 
themselves with one of its functions, and accepting its ups and downs 
and the risks in which it may involve them. They still judge it from 
outside, and as if they were not themselves part of it. Their commit 
ment is, in fact, a particular way of remaining uncommitted. Teaching 
and research have nothing in common, as they see it, with apprentice 
ship to a profession. Their splendours reside, as do also their miseries, 
in their being a refuge, on the one hand, or a mission, on the other. 

An antinomy, therefore, in which we have a profession on the one 
hand, and on the other an ambiguous enterprise, oscillating between a 
mission and a refuge, bearing within itself elements of both and yet 
always recognizably one rather than the other. Anthropology has in all 
this an especially favoured place. It represents the second alternative in 
its most extreme form. The ethnographer, while in no wise abdicating 
his own humanity, strives to know and estimate his fellow-men from a 
lofty and distant point of vantage: only thus can he abstract them from 
the contingencies particular to this or that civilization. The conditions 
of his life and work cut him off from his own group for long periods 
together; and he himself acquires a kind of chronic uprootedness from 
the sheer brutality of the environmental changes to which he is exposed. 
Never can he feel himself at home anywhere: he will always be, 
psychologically speaking, an amputated man. Anthropology is, with 
music and mathematics, one of the few true vocations; and the 
anthropologist may become aware of it within himself before ever he 
has been taught it. 

Personal particularities and one s attitude to Society may be 
decisive, therefore, but motives of a purely intellectual character must 

How I became an Anthropologist 59 

also be considered. The period of 1920-30 was marked in France by 
widespread diffusion of the theories of psycho-analysis. These taught 
me that the static antinomies around which we were encouraged 
to build our philosophical essays (and, eventually, our examination 
answers) rational and irrational, intellectual and affective, logical and 
pre-logical -were no more than meaningless games. In the first place 
there existed beyond the rational a category at once more important 
and more valid: that of the meaningful. The meaningful is the highest 
form of the rational, but our masters (more concerned, no doubt, with 
the perusal of the Essai sur les donnees immediates de la conscience than with 
F. de Saussure s Cours de linguistique generale) never so much as men 
tioned its name. Freud s works then made it clear to me that our 
antitheses were not real antitheses, since those actions which seem most 
purely affective, those results which seem least logical, and those 
demonstrations which we call pre-logical, are in point of fact precisely 
those which are meaningful in the highest degree. Acts of faith and 
Bergsonian question-begging were used to reduce people and things to 
pap-form the better, of course, to body forth their ineffable essence; 
but I became convinced that, on the contrary, people and things could 
be apprehended in essence without losing that sharpness of outline 
which serves to distinguish one from the other and gives to each a 
decipherable structure. Knowledge was not founded upon sacrifice or 
barter: it consisted in the choice of those aspects of a subject which were 
true which coincided, that is to say, with the properties of my own 
thought. Not at all, as the neo-Kantians claim, because my thought 
inevitably exerted a certain constraint on the object under study: but 
rather because my thought was itself such an object. Being c of this 
world , it partook of the same nature as that world. 

Much of these intellectual processes I shared with other men of my 
generation, but they bore, in my case, a particular colour by virtue of 
the intense curiosity which had drawn me, ever since childhood, to the 
study of geology. One of the memories dearest to me is not so much 
that of my excursions into the unknown centre of Brazil as that of the 
search, on a limestone plateau in Languedoc, for the line of contact 
between two geological strata. It s a very different thing from just 
taking a walk, or even from the straightforward exploration of a given 
area: what seems mere incoherent groping to an uninformed observer 
is to me the very image of knowledge-in-action, with the difficulties 
that it may encounter and the satisfactions it may hope to enjoy. 

Every landscape offers, at first glance, an immense disorder which 

60 From a Log-book 

may be sorted out howsoever we please. We may sketch out the history 
of its cultivation, plot the accidents of geography which have befallen 
it, and ponder the ups and downs of history and prehistory: but the 
most august of investigations is surely that which reveals what came 
before, dictated, and in large measure explains all the others. From that 
pale broken line, that often imperceptible difference in the form and 
consistency of the jumbled rocks, I can detect that, where there is now 
nothing but an arid waste, one ocean once followed another. The 
investigator who establishes, trace by trace, the evidence of their 
millenary stagnation may not seem to make much sense as, indifferent 
alike to footpath and barrier, he negotiates the obstacles- landslips, 
cliff-faces, stretches of bush, farmland that stand in his way. But his 
contrariness springs from a determination to find the master-key to the 
landscape; baffling this may well be, but in comparison with it all others 
are deformed or incomplete. 

And sometimes the miracle happens. On one side and the other of a 
hidden crevice we find two green plants of different species. Each has 
chosen the soil which suits it; and we realize that within the rock are 
two ammonites ? one of which has involutions less complex than the 
other s. We glimpse, that is to say, a difference of many thousands of 
years; time and space suddenly commingle; the living diversity of that 
moment juxtaposes one age and the other and perpetuates them. 
Thought and sensibility take on a new dimension, in which every 
drop of sweat, every movement of muscle, every quick-drawn breath 
becomes the symbol of a story; and, as my body reproduces the 
particular gait of that story, so does my mind embrace its meaning. I 
feel myself luxuriating in a state of heightened perception, in which 
Place and Period make themselves known to one another and have at 
last a common language in which to communicate. 

When I first read Freud his theories seemed to me to represent 
quite naturally the .application to individual human beings of a method 
of which geology had established the canon. In both cases the investi 
gator starts with apparently impenetrable phenomena; and in both he 
needs a fundamental delicacy of perception sensibility, flair, taste: 
all are involved if he is to detail and assess the complexities of the 
situation. And yet there is nothing contingent, nothing arbitrary, in 
the order which he introduces into the incoherent-seeming collection 
of facts. Unlike the history of the historians, history as the geologist and 
the psycho-analyst see it is intended to body forth in time rather in 
the manner of a tableau vivant certain fundamental properties of the 

How I became an Anthropologist 61 

physical or psychical universe. A tableau vivant, I said: and, in effect, . 
the acting-out of proverbs does provide a crude parallel to the 
activities of geologist and psycho-analyst. These consist, after all, in 
the interpretation of each act as the unfolding in time of certain non- 
temporal truths. Proverbs are an attempt to pin down these truths on 
the moral plane, but in other domains they are just called laws . In 
every case our aesthetic curiosity acts as a springboard and we find 
ourselves immediately in a state of cognizance. 

When I was about seventeen I was initiated into Marxism by a 
young Belgian socialist whom I had met on holiday. (He is today one 
of his country s Ambassadors abroad.) Reading Marx was for me all 
the more enthralling in that I was making my first contact, by way of 
that great thinker, with the philosophical current that runs from Kant 
to Hegel. A whole world was opened to me. My excitement has never 
cooled: and rarely do I tackle a problem in sociology or ethnology 
without having first set my mind in motion by reperusal of a page or 
two from the iS Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte or the Critique of Political 
Economy. Whether Marx accurately foretold this or that historical 
development is not the point. Marx followed Rousseau in saying 
and saying once and for all, as far as I can see that social science is no 
more based upon events than physics is based upon sense-perceptions. 
Our object is to construct a model, examine its properties and the way 
in which it reacts to laboratory tests, and then apply our observations 
to the interpretation of empirical happenings: these may turn out very 
differently from what we had expected. 

At a different level of reality, Marxism seemed to me to proceed 
in the same way as geology and psycho-analysis (in the sense in which 
its founder understood it). All three showed that understanding con 
sists in the reduction of one type of reality to another; that true 
reality is never the most obvious of realities, and that its nature is 
already apparent in the care which it takes to evade our detection. In all 
these cases the problem is the same: the relation, that is to say, between 
reason and sense-perception; and the goal we are looking for is also 
the same: a sort of super-rationalism in which sense-perceptions will be 
integrated into reasoning and yet lose none of their properties. 

And so I stood out against the new tendencies in metaphysical 
thinking which were then beginning to take shape. Phenomenology 
I found unacceptable, in so far as it postulated a continuity between 
experience and reality. That the one enveloped and explained the other 
I was quite willing to agree, but I had learnt from my three mistresses 

62 From a Log-book 

that there is no continuity in the passage between the two and that to 
reach reality we must first repudiate experience, even though we may 
later reintegrate it in an objective synthesis in which sentimentality 
plays no part. As for the trend of thought which was to find fulfilment 
in existentialism, it seemed to me to be the exact opposite of true 
thought, by reason of its indulgent attitude towards the illusions 
of subjectivity. To promote private preoccupations to the rank of 
philosophical problems is dangerous, and may end in a kind of shop 
girl s philosophy excusable as an element in teaching procedure, but 
perilous in the extreme if it leads the philosopher to turn his back on his 
mission. That mission (he holds it only until science is strong enough to 
take over from philosophy) is to understand Being in relation to itself, 
and not in relation to oneself. Phenomenology and existentialism did 
not abolish metaphysics: they merely introduced new ways of finding 
alibis for metaphysics. 

Marxism and psycho-analysis are human sciences whose per 
spectives are social in the one case, and individual in the other. Geology 
is a physical science, but it is also the mother and wet-nurse of history, 
alike in its methods and in its aims. Between these is the kingdom that 
ethnography has spontaneously marked out for itself. For humanity, 
which we imagine to have no limitations other than those of space, puts 
quite a different complexion on the transformations of the terrestrial 
globe which geological history has bequeathed us. This history is an 
indissoluble activity which has gone forward from one millennium to the 
next, in the work of societies as anonymous as telluric forces and the 
work of individuals, each one of whom, to the psycho-analyst, repre 
sents a particular case. Anthropology affords me an intellectual satis 
faction: it rejoins at one extreme the history of the world, and at the 
other the history of myself, and it unveils the shared motivation of one 
and the other at the same moment. In suggesting Man as the object of 
my studies, anthropology dispelled all my doubts: for the differences 
and changes which we ethnographers deal in are those which matter to 
all mankind, as opposed to those which are exclusive to one particular 
civilization and would not exist if we chose to live outside it. Anthro 
pology set at rest, what is more, the anxious and destructive curiosity 
of which I have written above: I was guaranteed, that is to say, a more 
or less inexhaustible supply of matter for reflection, in the diversity of 
human manners, customs, and institutions. My life and my character 
were reconciled. 

This being so, it may seem strange that I should so long have 

How I became an Anthropologist 63 

remained deaf to a message which had after all been transmitted for me, 
ever since I first began to read philosophy, by the masters of the French 
school of sociology. The revelation did not come to me, as a matter 
of fact, till 1933 or 1934 when I came upon a book which was already 
by no means new: Robert H. Lowie s Primitive Society. But instead of 
notions borrowed from books and at once metamorphosed into 
philosophical concepts I was confronted with an account of first-hand 
experience. The observer, moreover, had been so committed as to keep 
intact the full meaning of his experience. My mind escaped from the 
closed circuit which was what the practice of academic philosophy 
amounted to: made free of the open air, it breathed deeply and took on 
new strength. Like a townsman let loose in the mountains, I made 
myself drunk with the open spaces and my astonished eye could hardly 
take in the wealth and variety of the scene. 

Thus began my long intimacy with Anglo-American anthropology. 
Nurtured at a distance by reading, and later reinforced by personal 
contacts, this was to be the cause of serious misunderstandings. In 
Brazil, to begin with, the University faculty had expected me to 
contribute to the teaching of a sociology derived from Durkheim. The 
positivist tradition is very strong in South America, and they were also 
anxious to give a philosophical basis to the moderate liberalism which 
is the oligarchy s usual safeguard against excessive personal power. I 
arrived as an avowed anti-Durkheimian and the enemy of any attempt 
to put sociology to metaphysical uses. I was certainly not going to help 
to rebuild those derelict walls at the very moment when I was trying 
with all my strength to broaden my horizons. I have been reproached 
since then for being, as people suppose, in fief to Anglo-Saxon thought. 
What an imbecility! Quite apart from the fact that I am probably at 
this moment nearer than any of my colleagues to the Durkheimian 
tradition and the fact has not passed unnoticed abroad the authors 
to whom I gladly acknowledge my debt Lowie, Kroeber, Boas 
seem to me to stand at the furthest possible remove from that American 
philosophy which derives from William James and Dewey (and now 
from the so-called logical positivists) and has long been out of date. 
European by origin, and themselves educated in Europe, or by 
European masters, they stand for something quite different: a synthesis 
reflecting, where knowledge is in question, the synthesis for which 
Columbus provided the objective opportunity four centuries ago; they 
applied vigorous scientific methods to that unique field of experiment, 
the New World, and they did it at a time when libraries were already 

64 From a Log-book 

improving and it was possible to leave one s University and enter 
primitive territory with no more difficulty than we encounter in 
leaving Paris for the Basque country or the Mediterranean. It is to a 
historical situation, not an intellectual tradition, that I am paying 
homage. The reader must imagine to himself the privilege of making 
contact with primitive societies which were more or less intact and had 
never before been studied seriously. Just how recently, as luck would 
have it, the whites had set out to destroy them will be clear from the 
following story: the Californian tribes had still been quite wild at the 
time of their extermination, and it happened that one Indian escaped, 
as if by a miracle, from the holocaust. For years he lived unknown and 
unobserved only a dozen miles from the great centres of population, 
and kept himself alive with his bow and the sharp-pointed arrows 
whose stone heads he carved himself. Gradually there was less and less 
for him to shoot, and finally he was found, naked and starving, on the 
outskirts of a city suburb. He ended his days in peace as a college porter 
in the University of California. 

7 Sunset 

WAS on a February morning in 1934 that I arrived 
in Marseilles to embark on the ship that was to take me to Santos. It 
was to be the first of many such departure-mornings, and they have 
merged in my memory, leaving an impression of, above all, the gaiety 
that is peculiar to the south of France in winter-time; the clear blue 
sky even more immaterial than usual, and a bite in the air that was 
almost painfully pleasant like a glass of iced soda-water drunk too 
quickly when one is parched with thirst. Over-heated, by contrast, was 
our ship as it lay motionless by the quay; and in its corridors the smells 
hung heavy sea-smells, some of them, mixed in with fresh paint and 
an overflow from the kitchen. And I remember with what satisfaction, 
what stillness of spirit, what tranquil happiness, almost, I listened in 
the middle of the night to the muffled throbbing of the engines and 
the susurration of the sea as it rushed along the hull s flanks. It was as if 
the ship s movement related to an idea of stability that not even immo 
bility itself could approach; a ship s stillness when it puts into an 
anchorage by night, for instance has often, indeed, the contrary effect, 
and provokes a feeling of insecurity and uneasiness, and an impatience, 
too, that the natural course of things , as we have learnt to regard it, 
should have been interrupted. 

Our ships put in at many ports. The first week of our passage was, 
in fact, spent almost entirely on shore, as far as we were concerned, 
because the ship travelled at night and spent the day loading and 
unloading its cargoes. Each morning we woke to find ourselves in a 
new port: Barcelona, Tarragona, Valencia, Alicante, Malaga, some 
times Cadiz; or Algiers, Oran, and Gibraltar, and then the longer 
hops that took us first to Casablanca and then to Dakar. Only then did 
the passage proper begin, either direct to Rio or Santos, or, less often, 
with a further bout of harbour-hopping along the Brazilian coast, with 
E 65 

66 From a Log-book 

stops at Recife, Bahia, and Victoria. The air grew steadily warmer, the 
Spanish sierras filed by on the horizon, and mirages of cliffs, or sand 
hills, kept the spectacle in being for several more days, though we were 
by now steaming alongside the African coastline which at that stage 
was too flat and marshy to be visible. It was the opposite of travel , in 
that the ship seemed to us not so much a means of transport as a place 
of residence a home, in fact, before which Nature put on a new show 
each morning. 

I was, as yet, so little of an anthropologist that I never thought 
to take advantage of these opportunities. I ve learnt, since, that these 
brief glimpses of a town, a region, or a way of life, offer us a school of 
attention. Sometimes so great is the concentration required of us in 
the few moments at our disposal they may even reveal to us char 
acteristics which in other circumstances might have long remained 
hidden. But other things attracted me more; and it was with the 
ingenuousness of a beginner that I stood on the empty deck and 
watched, each day at sunrise and again at sunset, the supernatural 
cataclysms which were played out in full, as it seemed to me, with 
beginnings, development, and end, across the four corners of a sky 
vaster than any I had as yet seen. I felt that if I could find the right 
words to describe these ever-changing phenomena, if I could com 
municate to others the character of an event which was never twice the 
same, then I should have penetrated or so I felt to the inmost secrets 
of my profession: bizarre and peculiar as might be the experiences to 
which I should be subject in my career as an anthropologist, I could 
be sure of putting them, and their implications, at the disposal of the 
common reader. 

Many years have passed, and I don t know if I could recapture that 
early state of grace. Could I re-live those moments of fever when, 
notebook in hand, I would jot down, second by second, phrases evoca 
tive of the evanescent and constantly renewed forms before me? It s a 
gamble that still fascinates, and I m often tempted to begin it all over 

Shipboard notes 

To the scholars, dawn and twilight are one and the same phenomenon; 
and the Greeks thought the same, since they used the same word for 
both, qualifying it differently according to whether morning or 
evening was in question. This confusion is an excellent illustration of 
our tendency to put theory first and take no account of the practical 

Sunset 67 

aspect of the matter. That a given point on the earth should shift its 
position in an indivisible movement between the zone of incidence of 
the sun s rays and the zone in which the light vanishes or returns to it is 
perfectly possible. But in reality no two things could be more different 
than morning and evening. Daybreak is a prelude, and nightfall an 
overture but an overture which comes at the end, and not, as in most 
operas, at the beginning. The look of the sun foretells what the next 
hours will bring; dark and livid, that s to say, if we are in for a wet 
morning, and pink, frothy, and insubstantial if the weather is to be 
fine. But as to the rest of the day, the dawn makes no promises. It 
simply sets the meteorological stage and adds a direction: Fine 9 or 
1 Wet . The sunset, on the other hand, is a complete performance, with a 
beginning, a middle, and an end: a synopsis of all that has happened 
during the previous twelve hours. Dawn is simply the day s beginning; 
sunset the day run through again, but fifty times as fast. 

That is why people pay more attention to sunset than to sunrise. 
Dawn merely adds a footnote to what they have already learnt from 
barometer and thermometer or, in the case of the less civilized , from 
the phases of the moon, the flight of birds, and the oscillations of the 
tide. Whereas a sunset reunites within its mysterious configurations the 
twists and turns of wind and rain, heat and cold, to which their 
physical being has been exposed. Much else may be read into those 
fleecy constellations. When the sky is first lit up by the setting sun (just 
as, in the theatre, the sudden blaze of the footlights indicates that the 
play is about to begin) the peasant stops dead in his tracks, the fisherman 
ties up his boat, and the savage winks an eye as he sits by a fire that 
grows pale. Remembrance is a source of profound pleasure though 
not to the extent that it is complete, for few would wish to live over 
again , literally, sufferings and exhaustions which are, none the less, a 
pleasure to look back upon. Remembrance is life itself, but it has 
another quality. And so it is that when the sun lowers itself towards the 
polished surface of a flat calm at sea, like a coin thrown down by a 
miser in the heavens, or when its disc outlines the mountain-tops like a 
metal sheet at once hard and lacy, then Man has a brief vision a 
hallucination, one might say of the indecipherable forces, the vapours 
and fulgurations whose obscure conflicts he has glimpsed vaguely, 
within the depths of himself, from time to time during the day. 

These inner spiritual struggles must have been sinister indeed, for 
the day had not been marked by any outward event that might have 
justified an atmospheric upheaval. It had, indeed, been featureless. 

68 From a Log-book 

Around four in the afternoon just at that moment when the sun is 
half-way through its run and is becoming less distinct, though not, as 
yet, less brilliant, and the thick golden light pours down as if to mask 
certain preliminaries the Mendoza had changed her course. A light 
swell had set her rolling, and with each oscillation the heat had become 
more apparent, but the change of course was so small that one might 
have mistaken the change of direction for a slight increase in the ship s 
rolling. Nobody had paid any attention to it, for nothing is so much 
like a transfer in geometry as a passage on the high seas. There is no 
landscape to point up the transition from one latitude to the next, or 
the crossing of an isotherm or a pluviometric curve. Thirty miles on 
dry land can make us feel that we have changed planets, but to the 
inexperienced eye each of the three thousand miles at sea is much like 
the last. The passengers were preoccupied neither with our position, 
nor with the route we had to follow, nor with the nature of the 
countries which lay out of sight behind the horizon. It seemed to them 
that if they were shut up in a confined space, for a number of days that 
had been decided in advance, it was not because a distance had to be 
covered but because they had to expiate the privilege of being carried 
from one side of the world to the other without making, themselves, the 
smallest exertion. They d gone soft: he-abed mornings, to begin with, 
and indolent meals which had long ceased to be a pleasure and were 
now merely a device (and one that had to be made to last as long as 
possible) for getting through the day. 

Nowhere on the ship was there any visible sign of the efforts which, 
somewhere and on someone s part, were being made. The men who 
were actually running the ship did not want to see the passengers any 
more than the passengers wanted to see them. (The officers, too, had 
no wish for the two groups to mingle.) All that we could do was to 
drag ourselves round the great carcase of the ship; a sailor retouching 
the paintwork, or a steward in blue overalls swabbing down the first- 
class corridors these are much as we saw, or would ever see, in token 
of the thousands of miles that we were covering. 

At twenty to six in the evening the sky in the west seemed 
encumbered with a complicated edifice, horizontal at its base, which 
was so exactly like the sea that one would have thought it had been 
sucked up out of it in some incomprehensible way, or that a thick and 
invisible layer of crystal had been inserted between the two. Attached 
to its summit suspended, as it were, to the very top of the sky as if 
by some heaviness in reverse were flimsy scaffoldings, bloated 


pyramids, vapours arrested in the act of boiling not clouds, one would 
have said, but sculptured imitations of clouds; and yet clouds have 
themselves that same quality, the polished and rounded look of wood 
that has been carved and gilded. The whole mass masked the sun and 
was dark, with occasional highlights, except towards the summit, 
where it was beginning to break into little flames. 

Higher still in the sky were mottled shapes that came apart in 
insubstantial and fugacious wisps and curls: pure light, they seemed, in 


Following the horizon round towards the north one could see the 
main edifice grow thinner and vanish in a complication of clouds 
behind which, in the far distance, a lofty strip of vapour could be 
discerned; it was effervescent along its top, and on the side nearest the 
still-invisible sun the light gave its outline a heavily modelled hem. 
Farther to the north the element of modelling disappeared and nothing 
remained but the strip itself, flat and lustreless, as it merged with the sea. 
To the south this same strip re-emerged, this time with great 
massive blocks of cloud above it that stood like cosmological dolmens 
on the smoky crests of their understructure. 

When one turned one s back on the sun and gazed eastwards there 
could be seen two long thin superimposed groups of cloud that stood 
out as if in their own light against a background of ramparts: battle 
ments heavy-breasted and yet ethereal, pearly and soft with reflections 
of pink and silver and mauve. 

Meanwhile the sun was gradually coming into view behind the 
celestial reefs that blocked the view to the west; as it progressed 
downwards inch by inch its rays would disperse the mists or force their 
way through, throwing into relief as they did so whatever had stood 
in their way, and dissipating it in a mass of circular fragments, each 
with a size and a luminous intensity all its own. Sometimes the light 
would gather together, as one might clench one s fist, and through 
the sleeve-end would appear, at most, two or three stiff and glitter 
ing fingers. Or else an incandescent octopus would come forward 
momentarily from the vaporous grottoes. 

Every sunset has two distinct phases. At the beginning the sun plays 
the role of architect. Later, when its rays no longer shine directly and 
are merely reflections, it turns into a painter. As soon as it disappears 
behind the horizon the light weakens and the complexity of the planes 
becomes ever greater and greater. Broad daylight is the enemy of 
perspective, but, between day and night, there is a moment of 

70 From a Log-book 

transition at which the architecture of the skies is as fantastic as it is 
ephemeral. When darkness comes, everything flattens down again, like 
some marvellously coloured Japanese toy. 

At exactly a quarter to six the first phase began. The sun was already 
low, but had not yet touched the horizon. At the moment when it 
appeared beneath the cloud-structure, it seemed to break open like the 
yolk of an egg and its light spilled over the forms to which it was still 
attached. This burst of bright light was soon followed by a withdrawal; 
the sun s surroundings lost all brilliance and in the empty space that 
marked off the topmost limit of the sea from the bottom of the cloud- 
structure there could be seen a cordillera of vapours, which had but 
lately been so dazzling as to be indecipherable and was now darkened 
and sharp-pointed. At the same time it began to belly out, where 
originally it had been quite flat. These small objects, black and solid, 
moved to and fro, lazy-bodied migrants, across a large patch of 
reddening sky which marked the beginning of the colour-phase and 
was slowly mounting upwards from the horizon. 

Gradually the evening s constructions-in-depth began to dismantle 
themselves. The mass which had stood all day in the sky to the west 
seemed to have been beaten flat like a metal leaf, and behind it was a 
fire first golden, then vermilion, then cerise. This fire was beginning 
to work on the elaborate clouds melting, disintegrating, and finally 
volatilizing them in a whirlwind of tiny particles. 

Network after network of fine vapours rose high in the sky; they 
seemed to stretch in all directions horizontal, oblique, perpendicular, 
even spiral. As the sun s rays went down (like a bow that must be tilted 
this way or that, according to which string we seek to use) they caught 
one after another of these and sent them flying in a gamut of colour 
which one would have thought to be the exclusive and arbitrary 
property of each one in turn. When it appeared, each network seemed 
as exact, as precise, and as rigid in its fragility as fine-spun glass, but 
gradually they all dissolved, as if their substance had been over-heated 
by exposure in a sky which was everywhere in flames; their colour lost 
its brightness and their outline its individuality, until finally each 
vanished from the scene, giving place to a new network, and one 
freshly spun. In the end it was difficult to distinguish one colour from 
the next just as liquids of different colour and density will at first seem 
to keep their individuality when they are poured into the same glass, 
only to mingle later for all their apparent independence. 

After that it became difficult to follow a spectacle which seemed to 

Sunset 7I 

be repeating itself in distant parts of the sky, at intervals sometimes of 
several minutes, sometimes of a second or two. When the sun s disc cut 
down into the western horizon we suddenly saw, very high up in the 
east, clouds acid-mauve in tonality which had hitherto been invisible. 
After a rapid efflorescence and enrichment these apparitions vanished 
slowly, from right to left, at their moment of greatest subtlety, just as 
if someone were wiping them away firmly and unhurriedly with a 
piece of cloth. After a few seconds nothing remained but the cleaned 
slate of the sky above the nebulous cloud-rampart. And this rampart 
was turning to white and grey while the rest of the sky went rose- 

Over towards the sun the old strip of cloud had receded into a 
shapeless block of cement, and behind it a new long strip was flaming 
in its turn; when its rednesses turned pale the mottled patches at the 
zenith, whose turn had not yet come, began to take on weight. Below 
there was a great burst of gold; above, where the summit had glittered, 
it turned first to chestnut, then to violet. At the same time we seemed to 
be scrutinizing its texture through a microscope; and it turned out to be 
made up of a thousand little filaments, each supporting, like a skeleton, 
its plump little forms. 

The sun no longer shone directly. The colour-range of the sky 
was pink and yellow; shrimp-pink, salmon-pink, flax-yellow, straw- 
yellow; and this unemphatic richness was, in its turn, disappearing, as 
the celestial landscape re-formed in a gamut of white and blue and 
green. Yet a few corners of the horizon were still enjoying a brief 
independence. To the left, the atmosphere was suddenly veiled a 
whim, one would have thought, on tike part of a mysterious com 
bination of greens. And these greens merged progressively into a group 
of reds intense to begin with, then darker, then tinged with violet, 
then smudged with coal, and evolving at the very end into the tracery 
of a stick of charcoal on granulated paper. The sky behind was an 
Alpine yellow-green and the strip of cloud, still firmly outlined, 
remained opaque. In the westerly sky little horizontal stripes of gold 
glimmered for an instant, but to the north it was almost dark; the full- 
breasted rampart had dwindled to a series of whitish swellings beneath 
a chalky sky. 

Nothing is more mysterious than the ensemble of procedures, 
always identical and never predictable, by which night succeeds day. 
The first portent of these procedures is always a matter for doubt and 
anxiety. No one can tell what forms will be adopted, on this one 

72 From a Log-book 

particular occasion, by the night s insurrection. Impenetrable is the 
alchemy by which each colour transforms itself into its complementary 
colour, whereas, on the palette, as we all know, we should have to open 
another tube of paint to achieve this same result. Where night is 
concerned there is no limit to the minglings and comminglings which 
may be achieved; for night comes to us as a deceiver. The sky turns 
from pink to green; but it does so because I have failed to liotice that 
certain clouds have turned bright red and, in doing so, make the sky 
look green by contrast. The sky had, in effect, been pink; but a pink so 
pale that it could no longer struggle against the very high-keyed red; 
and yet I had not seen that red come into being, since a modulation 
from gold to red is less startling to the eye than a modulation from pink 
to green. It was by a trick, therefore, that night made its entrance into 
the sky. 

And so night began to deny the sky its golds and purples; warmth 
of tone gave place to whites and greys. The set stage of night began to 
reveal a sea landscape above the sea: an immense screen of clouds filing 
by like an archipelago of long thin islands in front of an ocean-wide 
sky; or like a flat sandy shore as it might look to a traveller in an 
aeroplane flying low on its side with one wing almost in the sea. The 
illusion was all the stronger for the fact that the last glimmers of day 
fell obliquely on these cloud-forms and gave them, in high relief, the 
air of solid rocks rocks too, at other times, are as if sculpted from light 
and shadow and it was as if the sun, no longer able to exercise its 
etching-needle on granite and porphyry, was lavishing its day-time 
skills on these vaporous and insubstantial subjects. 

The cloud background, therefore, was like the edge of an unnamed 
coast. And as the sky cleared we could see beaches, lagoons, islets by 
the hundred, and sandbanks overrun by the inactive ocean of the sky. 
Fjords and inland lakes appeared where all had been flat and smooth. 
And because the sky which surrounded these arrowy shapes was like 
an ocean, and because the sea normally reflects the colours of the sky, 
the scene was like the reconstruction of some distant landscape in which 
the sun was setting all over again. We had only to look at the real sea, 
far below, to escape from the mirage; that real sea had no longer either 
the white-hot flatness of noonday or the curling prettiness of after- 
dinner. No longer did the all-but-horizontal rays of daylight illuminate 
the tops of the little waves that looked towards them, leaving the rest 
in darkness. The water, too, was now seen in relief, and its precise and 
heavy shadows were as if cast in steel. All transparency had gone. 

Sunset 73 

And so, by a process at once unvarying and imperceptible, evening 
gave place to night. All was changed. The sky on the horizon was 
opaque, and above it the last clouds that had been brought into being 
by the day s end were scattering across a ground that was livid yellow 
at its base and turned blue towards its zenith. Soon they were but lean 
and weakly shadows, like scenery-frames seen without stage-lights; the 
performance over, we see them for what they are poor, fragile, 
ephemeral and owing the illusion of reality which they had helped 
to create not so much to their own nature as to some trickery of 
lighting or perspective. Only a few moments earlier they had been 
alive and in continual transformation; now they seem set fast in a form 
as sad as it is unalterable, in the middle of a sky which will soon merge 
them within its gathering darkness. 


The New World 

8 The Doldrums 

SAID good-bye to the Old World at Dakar 
and proceeded, without any glimpse of the Cape Verde Islands, to 
the fateful 7 North. Here it was that, in 1498, Columbus on his 
third voyage changed course towards the north-west. But for this he 
would have done as he intended and discovered Brazil; as it was, it was 
by a miracle that he did not miss, fifteen days later, Trinidad and the 
Venezuelan coast. 

As we drew towards the doldrums, so much dreaded by navigators 
in ancient times, the winds proper to both hemispheres dropped away; 
we were entering the zone where sails hang idle for weeks on end. So 
still is the air that one would tliink oneself in an enclosed space rather 
than in the middle of the ocean. The dark clouds, with never a breeze 
to disturb them, respond to gravity alone as they lumber slowly down 
towards sea-level; if their inertia were not so great they would sweep 
clean the polished surface of the water as they trail their fringes along it. 
The ocean, lit indirectly by the rays of an invisible sun, offers an oily 
and unvarying reflection that reverses the normal light-values of air and 
water. (Look at it upside-down and you will see a more orthodox sea- 
picture , with sky and ocean each impersonating the other.) There s a 
strange intimacy about the passive, half-lit horizon; and the area 
between the sea and its cloud-ceiling seems even narrower for the 
little funnels of cloud which idle their way across from one side to the 
other. The ship slithers anxiously between the two surfaces, as if it had 
none too much time to avoid being stifled. Sometimes a cloud comes 
near, loses its shape, bellies out all round us and whips across the 
deck with damp finger-ends. Then it re-forms on the far side of the 
ship; but it can no longer be heard. 

All life had gone from the sea. No longer did dolphins cut 
gracefully through the white waves ahead of us; nothing spouted on the 


78 The New World 

horizon; and we had lost the spectacle of the pink-and-mauve-veiled 

Should we find, on the far side of the deep, the marvels vouched for 
by the navigators of old? When they moved into unknown regions 
they were more anxious to verify the ancient history of the Old World 
than to discover a new one. Adam and Ulysses were authenticated by 
what they saw. When Columbus, on his first journey, stumbled on the 
Antilles, he thought that they might be Japan; but he preferred to think 
of them as the Terrestrial Paradise. Four centuries have elapsed since 
then, but they can t quite obliterate the twist of circumstance by which 
the New World was spared the agitations of history* for some ten or 
twenty millennia. Something of this must remain, even if on another 
level. I soon found out that even if South America was no longer Eden 
before the Fall, it was still, thanks to that mysterious circumstance, in 
a position to offer a Golden Age to anyone with a bit of money. Its 
good fortune was melting like snow in the sun. How much of it is left 
today? Already the rich alone had access to its remnants, and now its 
very nature has been transformed and is historical, where once it was 
eternal, and social, where once it was metaphysical. The earthly 
paradise which Columbus glimpsed was at once perpetuated and 
destroyed in the ideal of good living which only the rich could enjoy. 

The charcoal skies and louring atmosphere of the doldrums 
summarize the state of mind in which the Old World first came upon 
the new one. This lugubrious frontier-area, this lull before the storm 
in which the forces of evil alone seem to flourish, is the last barrier 
between what were once quite recently two planets so different 
from one another that our first explorers could not believe that they 
were inhabited by members of the same race. The one, hardly touched 
by mankind, lay open to men whose greed could no longer be satisfied 
in the other. A second Fall was about to bring everything into question: 
God, morality, and the law. Procedures at once simultaneous and 
contradictory were to confirm these things, in fact, and refute them in 
law. The Garden of Eden was found to be true, for instance; likewise 
the ancients Golden Age, the Fountain of Youth, Atlantis, the Gardens 
of the Hesperides, the pastoral poems, and the Fortunate Islands. But 
the spectacle of a humanity both purer and happier than our own (in 
reality, of course, it was neither of these, but a secret remorse made it 
seem so) made the European sceptical of the existing notions of 
revelation, salvation, morality, and law. Never had the human race 
been faced with such a terrible ordeal; nor will one such ever recur, 

The Doldrums 79 

unless there should one day be revealed to us another earth, many 
millions of miles distant, with thinking beings upon it. And we know, 
even then, that those distances cata., in theory at any rate, be covered, 
whereas the early navigators were afraid that an enormous nothingness 
might lie before them. 

Certain incidents will remind us of how absolute, complete, and 
intransigent were the dilemmas which confronted our predecessors in 
the sixteenth century. Take, for instance, what they called Hispaniola: 
the Haiti and San Domingo of our day. In 1492 there were about a 
hundred thousand people on those islands. They were to dwindle in the 
next hundred years to a mere two hundred; horror and disgust at 
European civilization were to kill them off quite as effectively as 
disease and ill treatment. The colonists couldn t make these people 
out, and commission after commission was sent to enquire into their 
nature. If they were really men, were they perhaps the descendants of 
the ten lost tribes of Israel? Or Mongols who had ridden over on 
elephants? Or Scotsmen, brought over some centuries earlier by Prince 
Modoc? Had they always been pagans, or were they lapsed Catholics 
who had once been baptized by St Thomas? That they were really men, 
and not animals or creatures of the devil, was not regarded as certain. 
In 1512, for instance, King Ferdinand authorized the importation of 
white women as slaves into the Westlndies, with the object of prevent 
ing the Spaniards from marrying the native women who are far from 
being rational creatures . And when Las Casas tried to put an end to 
forced labour in the islands, the colonists were not so much indignant 
as incredulous. What? they said. Does he want to stop us using our 
beasts of burden? 

The most famous of the commissions is, quite rightly, that of the 
monks of the Order of St Jerome in 1517. The story is worth recalling, 
both for the light it sheds on the mental attitudes of the time and for 
the marks of a scrupulosity which was to be well and truly banished 
from colonialism. The enquiry was held on the most up-to-date 
psycho-sociological lines, an^i in the course of it the colonists were 
asked whether, in their estimation, the Indians were capable of running 
their own society, like the Castilian peasantry . A unanimous No was 
the answer. Their grandchildren just might be up to it, but they re so 
profoundly anti-social that you couldn t be sure. Take an instance: 
they dodge the Spaniards when they can, and you can t get them to 
work for nothing and yet sometimes you ll find them giving all their 
belongings away. And when we cut the ears off one of them they all 

8o The New World 

stick by him, just the same/ And, with one voice: The Indian is better 
off as a slave, among men, than as an animal on his own. 

Ten years later Ortiz spoke up as follows before the Council of the 
Indies: They eat human flesh and they ve no notion of justice; they 
go about naked and eat spiders and worms and lice, all raw. . . . They ve 
no beard, and if one of them happens to start one he makes haste to pull 
it out, hair by hair. . . . 

At this same time, so Oviedo tells us, the Indians in the neighbour 
ing island of Porto Rico used to kill off any captured Europeans by 
drowning. Then they would mount guard for weeks round the dead 
men to see whether or not they were subject to putrefaction. We can 
draw two conclusions from the differences between the two methods 
of enquiry: the white men invoked the social, and the Indians the 
natural, sciences; and whereas the white men took the Indians for 
animals, the Indians were content to suspect the white men of being 
gods. One was as ignorant as the other, but the second of the two did 
more honour to the human race. 

To these moral disturbances were added ordeals of a more intel 
lectual order. Our predecessors were baffled at every turn: Pierre 
d Ailly s Imago Mundi speaks of a newly discovered race of supremely 
happy beings, gens beatissima, made up of pygmies, and headless 
creatures, and people who lived for ever. Peter Martyr described 
monsters of many sorts: snakes in the likeness of crocodiles; ox-bodied 
creatures with tusks as big as an elephant s; ox-headed fish, each with 
four legs and a long shell on its back, like a tortoise covered with warts; 
and man-eating tyburons. What he meant, of course, were boa- 
constrictors, tapirs, sea-cows or hippopotamuses, and sharks (tubarao, in 
Portuguese). Conversely things genuinely mysterious were taken as 
quite natural. When Columbus wanted to justify the abrupt change 
of course which cost him Brazil, he put into his official report an 
account of extravagances such as have never been reported since, above 
all in that zone of perennial humidity: a blazing heat which made it 
impossible to set foot in the hold, with the result that his casks of 
wine and water exploded, his grain caught fire, and his lard and 
dried meat roasted for a week on end; the sun was such that his crew 
thought they were being burnt alive. O happy age, when all was 

Surely it was here, or hereabouts, that Columbus sighted the sirens? 
Actually he saw them in the Caribbean, on the first of his voyages, but 
they would not have been out of place off the Amazonian delta. The 

The Doldrums gj 

three sirens/ he tells us, lifted their bodies above the surface of the 
ocean, and although they were not as beautiful as the painters have 
made them their round faces were distincdy human in form/ Sea- 
cows have round heads and carry their udders on their chests; as the 
females feed their young by clutching them to their breasts there is 
nothing very surprising in Columbus interpretation especially in 
an age when people were ready to describe the cotton plant (and even 
to draw a picture of it) as a sheep-tree : a tree that bore whole sheep, 
where others bore fruit; dangling by their backs, so that they could be 
shorn by any passer-by. 

Rabelais must have worked from narratives of this sort in the 
Fourth Book of Pantagruel. In offering us our earliest caricature of 
what anthropologists now call a system of relationships he embroidered 
freely upon the skimpy original; the system can barely be conceived, 
surely, in which an old man could address a young girl as Father . 
The sixteenth century lacked, in any case, an element more essential 
even than knowledge itself: a quality indispensable to scientific reflec 
tion. The men of that time had no feeling for the style of the universe 
just as, today, where the fine arts are in question, an uninstructed person 
who had picked up some of the surface-characteristics of Italian art, 
or of primitive African sculpture, would be unable to distinguish a 
faked Botticelli from a real one or a Pahouin figure from a mass- 
produced imitation. Sirens and sheep-trees are something different 
from, and more than, failings of objectivity; on the intellectual level 
they should rather be called faults of taste; they illustrate the falling 
short of minds which, despite elements of genius and a rare refinement 
in other domains, left much to be desired where observation was 
concerned. Not that I mean this by way of censure: rather should we 
revere those men the more for the results which they achieved in spite 
of their shortcomings. 

Anyone who, in our own day, wants to rewrite the Priere sur 
YAcropole should choose, not the Acropolis, but the deck of a steamer 
bound for the Americas. It s not to the anaemic goddess of old, the 
headmistress of our ingrown civilization, that I for one should offer 
homage. And higher even than those heroes navigators, explorers, 
conquerors of the New World who risked the only total adventure 
yet offered to mankind (the journey to the moon will one day replace 
it), I would set the survivors of that rearguard which paid so cruelly 
for the honour of holding the doors open: the Indians whose example, 
as transmitted to us by Montaigne, Rousseau, Diderot, and Voltaire, so 

82 The New World 

enriched the substance of what I learnt at school. Hurons, Iroquois, 
Caribs, Tupis it is to you that I would pay homage! 

When Columbus saw a glimmer of light along the horizon by 
night he took it for the coast of America; but it was merely a marine 
variety of glow-worm which produces its eggs between sunset and 
moonrise. These I, too, saw during a night which I spent watchfully on 
deck in readiness for my first sight of the New World. 

That world had been present to us since the previous day: not in 
sight, though, for despite a change of course which took us more and 
more to the south we were to steam parallel to the coast from Cape 
Sao Agostino to Rio. For two days at least, and maybe for three, we 
were to keep company with an unseen America. No longer was it the 
great sea-birds which gave us warning that the voyage was nearly over: 
the strident tropic birds, or the tyrannical petrels which swoop down 
on gannets in flight and force them to disgorge their prey. Both of 
these, as Columbus learnt to his cost, travel far from land; he had 
sighted them with joy when he had still half the Atlantic to cross. The 
flying-fish, too, had become, if anything, less common for the last few 
days. It is by its scent that the New World first makes itself known to 
the traveller; and it is difficult to describe that scent to anyone who has 
not experienced it. 

At first it seemed as if the sea-smells of the previous weeks were no 
longer circulating freely; somewhere they had come up against an 
invisible wall; immobilized, they had no longer any claim upon our 
attention, which was free to sample quite other smells smells to which 
experience had as yet given us no guide; it was as if forest breezes 
alternated with the smells of the hot-house, quintessences of the 
vegetable kingdom any one of which would have intoxicated us by its 
intensity had we savoured it in isolation; but, as it was, they were 
spaced out as if in an arpeggio, isolated and yet commingled, with each 
strong scent following fast upon its predecessor. To understand what all 
that is like, you must first have plunged your nose deep into a freshly 
crushed tropical pepper; and before that you must know what it is like 
to walk into a botequin in the Brazilian interior and smell the honeyed 
black coils ofthefumo de rolo, which is made of fermented tobacco- 
leaves rolled into lengths several yards long. In the union of those two 
smells you will recapture the America which, for many a thousand 
years, alone held their secret. 

But when the visible image of the New World first presents itself, 
at four o clock the following morning, it seems worthy of its smells. 

The Doldrums 83 

For two days and two nights the ship steams past an enormous 
cordillera: enormous not in its height but because it goes on repeating 
itself exactly, with never an identifiable beginning or end in the 
disordered succession of its crests. Several hundred yards above the 
sea we could see, continuously, mountain-tops of polished stone: there 
was an element of wild absurdity in their outline, of the kind one sees 
in sand-castles that the waves have washed half away; I should not have 
believed it possible for such shapes to exist, on such a scale, anywhere on 
our planet. 

This impression of immensity is, of course, characteristic of 
America. I have experienced it on the plateaux of central Brazil, in the 
Bolivian Andes and in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, in the 
outskirts of Rio and the suburbs of Chicago. . . . The initial shock is 
the same in every case: the streets remain streets, the mountains moun 
tains, and the rivers rivers and yet one feels at a loss before them, 
simply because their scale is such that the normal adjustment of man- 
to-environment becomes impossible. Later one gets used to America 
and comes to make, quite naturally, the necessary adaptations; a 
momentary change of gear in one s mind, as the aeroplane comes 
down, and normal functioning continues. But our judgments are, 
none the less, permeated and deformed by this difference of scale. Those 
who call New York ugly, for instance, have simply failed to make the 
necessary change of registration. Objectively, no doubt, New York is 
a city, and can be judged as one; but the spectacle which it offers to a 
European sensibility is of a different order of magnitude: that of Euro 
pean landscape; whereas American landscape offers us, in its turn, an 
altogether more monumental scheme of things, and one for which we 
have no equivalent. The beauty of New York, is not, therefore, an 
urban beauty. It results from the creation of a new kind of city: an 
artificial landscape in which the principles of urbanism no longer 
operate. And our eye will adapt itself at once, if we do not inhibit it, 
to this new landscape, in which the values that count are those of the 
velvety light, the sharpness of the far distances, the sublimity of the 
skyscraper and the shaded valleys in which the many-coloured 
motor-cars lie strewn like flowers. 4 > 

This makes it all the more embarrassing for me to have to say that 
I do not respond at all to the renowned beauty of the bay of Rio de 
Janeiro. How shall I put it? Simply that the landscape of Rio is not 
built to the scale of its own proportions. The Sugar Loaf mountain, 
the Corcovado, and the other all-too-famous points of beauty seemed 

84 The New World 

to me, as I arrived by sea, like stumps left at random in the four corners 
of a toothless mouth. Geographical accidents, lost for the greater part 
of the time in the brown mists of the tropics, they are too small to 
furnish adequately the colossal horizon. The bay is best seen in reverse: 
if you stand on the heights, that is to say, and look down towards the 
sea you will feel as if you were looking down into an enormous 
builder s yard. Nature, in short, will give you the feeling that mankind 
has given you in New York. 

The bay s various landmarks give no real impression of its pro 
portions; but as the ship creeps into -the harbour, changing course this 
way and that to avoid the islands, cool scented breezes blow down upon 
us from the wooded hillocks and we establish a sort of preliminary 
contact with flowers and rocks which, though they have not as yet 
any individual existence for us, are the prefiguration of the whole 
continent. Once again Columbus comes to mind: 

The trees were so high that they seemed to touch the sky; and, 
if I understood aright, they never lose their leaves; for they were 
as fresh and as green in November as ours are in the month of May ; 

some were even in flower, and others were bearing fruit And 

wherever I turned the nightingales were singing, accompanied by 
thousands of other birds of one sort and another. 

That s America: the continent makes itself felt at once. It is made up 
of all the presences which enliven, at the end of the day, the misted 
horizon of the bay; but to the newcomer these shapes, these move 
ments, these patches of light do not stand for provinces, or towns, or 
hamlets; he will not say to himself: There s a forest (or a stretch of 
open country, or a valley, or a view ); nor will he see them in terms of 
the activity of individuals, each enclosed within his own family and 
his own occupation and knowing nothing of his neighbours. No: it 
all strikes him as an entity, unique and all-comprehending. "What 
surrounded me on every side, what overwhelmed me, was not the 
inexhaustible diversity of people and things, but that one single and 
redoubtable entity: the New World. 

9 Guanabara 



.HE bay of Bio lias bitten Rio itself right to the 
heart; and when the traveller disembarks in the centre of the city, it is 
as if the other half, the Ys of our day, had foundered beneath the waves. 
And, in a certain sense, it has so foundered: the first city of Rio, a 
simple fort, stood on the rocky islet which our ship had just negotiated. 
It still bears the name of the founder of the city: Villegaignon. 

Once ashore, I ambled along the Avenida Rio Branco, where once 
the Tupinamba villages stood; in my pocket was that breviary of the 
anthropologist, Jean de Lery. He had arrived in Rio three hundred and 
seventy-eight years previously, almost to the day. With him were ten 
other Genevese, Protestants to a man, sent by Calvin to seek out 
Villegaignon, his friend of student days, who had gone over to 
Protestantism barely a year after his arrival in die bay of Guanabara. 
Villegaignon was a strange figure, who had turned his hand to more or 
less everything and taken part in all the quarrels that were going. He 
had, for instance, fought the Turks, the Arabs, the Italians, the Scots 
(he had abducted Mary Stuart in order to facilitate her marriage to 
Francois II), and the English. He had turned up at Malta, at Algiers, at 
the battle of Cerisoles. Just when he was almost at the end of his 
adventurous career, and appeared to be settling down as a military 
architect, he suffered a professional disappointment and decided to go 
off to Brazil, with intentions cut to die pattern of his resdess and 
ambitious mind. He aimed to found a colony that was more than a 
colony: an empire, in feet. And his immediate objective was to 
establish a place of refuge for Protestants who were being persecuted in 
Europe. A Catholic himself, and possibly a free thinker, he secured the 
patronage of Coligny and the Cardinal of Lorraine. After a brisk 
recruiting campaign among the faithful of bodi beliefs, and a diver 
sionary drive among debauchees and runaway slaves, he managed to 


86 The New World 

get six hundred people aboard his two ships, on July I2th, 1555: 
pioneers drawn from every rank of Society, with an admixture of 
convicts among them. The only things he forgot were women and 

There was trouble at the start: twice the ships put back to Dieppe, 
and when they finally got away on August I4th there was trouble 
again: fighting broke out when they reached the Canaries, the ship s 
water became polluted, and there was an outbreak of scurvy. 
On November zoth, however, Villegaignon dropped anchor in 
the bay of Guanabara, where the French and the Portuguese 
had been in competition, for several years past, for the natives 

France s privileged position on the Brazilian coast dated back at 
least to the beginning of the century, We know of many French 
travellers who were in Brazil at that time notably Gonneville, who 
returned to France with a Brazilian son-in-law; and it was, of course, 
in 1500 that Cabral discovered Santa Cruz. There may even be 
something in the tradition, so long current in Dieppe, that Jean Cousin 
discovered Brazil four years before Columbus first voyage. The French 
did, after all, immediately call the new country Bresil, which had been 
the name given in secret, since the twelfth century at least, to the 
mythical continent whence wooden dyes were obtained. And the 
French language incorporated directly within itself and with no 
intermediary passage by way of the Iberian languages a great many 
items from the natives vocabulary: ananas, for instance, and manioc, 
and tamandua, and tapir, and jaguar, and sagouin, and agouti, and ara, and 
caiman, and toucan, and coati, and acajou. . . . Cousin had a man called 
Pinzon among his crew, and it was the Pinzons who gave Columbus 
fresh courage at Palos, when he seemed ready to turn back; and it was 
a Pinzon, yet again, who commanded the Pinta on Columbus first 
voyage: Columbus discussed every change of course with him. And if, 
finally, Columbus had not gone off the course which was to be 
followed, a year later, by yet another Pinzon, he would have pushed 
on as far as Cabo Sao Agostino. Columbus, not Pinzon, would have 
had the honour of the first official discovery of Brazil. 

Only a miracle will ever resolve this mystery, since the archives of 
Dieppe, with Cousin s narrative among them, were lost in the fire 
started by an English bombardment in the seventeenth century. But 
when I first set foot on Brazilian soil I could not but remember the 
incidents, some tragic and some grotesque, which witnessed to the 

Guanabara 87 

intimacy of Franco-Indian relations four centuries earlier. The inter 
preters from Normandy who Vent native 5 , married Indian women, 
and took to cannibalism; and the unhappy Hans Staden who for years 
expected to be eaten and was saved every day by some fresh accident. 
He it was who tried to pass himself off as a Frenchman by growing a 
red beard, by no means Iberian in colour, and drew from King 
Quoniam Bebe the remark: I ve already captured and eaten five 
Portuguese. They all pretended to be French, the liars! And what an 
intimacy can we read into the fact that in 1531 the frigate La Pelerine 
brought back to France, along with three thousand leopard-skins and 
three hundred monkeys, six hundred parrots that already know a few 
words of French ! 

Villegaignon founded Fort Coligny on an island in the middle of 
the bay. The Indians built it and supplied the little colony with food; 
but before long, weary of always giving and never getting anything in 
return, they ran away and left their villages deserted. Famine and 
sickness broke out in the fort. Villegaignon s tyrannical side soon 
showed itself; and when the convicts rebelled against him he had them 
massacred to a man. The epidemic soon reached the mainland, and the 
few Indians who had remained faithful to the mission caught the 
contagion: eight hundred died of it. 

Villegaignon began to disdain the crises of this world; a crisis of 
the spirit took all his time. Contact with Protestants led him to go over 
to their beliefs, and he appealed to Calvin to send out missionaries who 
would have more to teach him in the matter. And that is how, in 1556, 
Lery came to arrive in Rio. 

The story then takes so curious a turn that I am amazed no novelist 
or scenario-writer has seized upon it. What a film it would make! 
A handful of Frenchmen, isolated on an unknown continent an 
unknown planet could hardly have been stranger where Nature and 
mankind were alike unfamiliar to them; incapable of growing any 
thing with which to keep themselves alive, racked with illness, and 
dependent for all their needs on an unintelligible population which had 
taken an intense dislike to them: and caught, what was more, in their 
own trap. For, although they had left Europe to found a community 
in which Catholic and Protestant could co-exist in amity, they soon 
began to try to convert one another. Where they should have been 
working to keep themselves alive, they spent week after week in 
insane discussions: How should one interpret the Last Supper? Should 
water be mixed with wine for the Consecration? The Eucharist and 

88 The New World 

the problems of baptism gave rise to veritable theological tournaments 
at the end of which Villegaignon would veer now to one side, now to 
the other. 

They went so far as to send an emissary to Europe to ask Calvin 
to adjudicate on certain knotty points. Meanwhile their disputes grew 
steadily worse. Villegaignon s faculties began to give way; Lery tells 
us that they could judge, from the colour of his clothes, how he was 
likely to behave and in what field his excesses would lie. When finally 
he turned against the Protestants, and tried to starve them out, they left 
the community, crossed over to the mainland, and threw in their lot 
with the Indians. The idyll which resulted is described in that master 
piece of anthropological literature, the Voyage faict en la Terre de du 
Bresil by Jean de Lery. The adventure ended sadly: the Genevese 
embarked with great difficulty on a French boat. On the outward 
voyage they had been strong enough to pillage every ship that crossed 
their path; now things were very different, and famine reigned on 
board. They ate the monkeys, and they ate the parrots though these 
were so valuable that an Indian woman, a friend of Lery s, refused to 
give hers up until she was given a cannon in exchange. The rats and 
mice from the hold were eaten in their turn, and sold for as much as 
four ecus each. The water gave out. In 1558 the ship s company arrived 
in Brittany, half dead from hunger. 

On the island, the colony disintegrated. Terror reigned, and 
executions were frequent. Loathed by all, regarded by one party as a 
traitor and by the other as a renegade, an object of dread to the Indians, 
and himself terrified by the Portuguese, Villegaignon said farewell to 
his dream. Fort Coligny, commanded at the time by his nephew, 
Bois-le-Comte, fell to the Portuguese in 1560. 

Now that I was free to explore Rio on foot, I began by looking 
about for some lingering vestige of this adventure. I was to find one, 
eventually, in the course of an archaeological excursion to the far side 
of the bay. On the swampy beach where the motor-boat had deposited 
our party I suddenly saw an old rusted hulk. Doubdess it did not date 
back to the sixteenth century; but it introduced the element of 
historical perspective into a region otherwise unequipped to illustrate 
the passage of time. The clouds hung low and fine rain had fallen 
continuously since daybreak. Nothing could be seen of the city. The 
black mud was alive with crabs; there were mangroves is it a mark of 
growth, or of decay, that they swell up to such an extraordinary size? 
and, beyond where a few ageless straw huts stood out against the 

Guanabara gp 

forest, the lower slopes of the mountains were swathed in pale mists. 
Over towards the trees was the goal of our expedition: a sand-pit 
where peasants had lately brought to light some fragments of pottery. 
I ran my hand over one of them: the white slip, bordered with red, 
proved that they were of Tupi origin, and the lacy bkck markings 
seemed to form a labyrinth destined, so people say, to deter those 
evil spirits which would otherwise have sought out the bones that were 
once preserved in these urns. I was told that we could have motored 
the thirty-odd miles that separated us from the centre of Rio, had it not 
been that the rain might well have flooded the tracks and cut us off for 
a week. This isolation would at least have brought me nearer to Lery, 
who may have whiled away the months of waiting by watching the 
manufacture of just such a pot as I had, in fragments, before me. He 
describes, at any rate, how the natives would take up a thin rod, dip it 
in black varnish, and describe charming and amusing patterns by the 
thousand . 

Quite different was my first contact with Rio. For the first time in 
my life I was on the other side of die Equator, in the tropics, and in the 
New World. By what master-token should I recognize this triple 
transformation? What voice would confirm it for me, what never-yet- 
heard note ring out in my ear? Flippancies first: Rio seemed to me like 
one huge drawing-room. 

Running off the main avenue are any number of narrow, winding, 
shadowy alleyways, each faced with black and white mosaic. When I 
came to explore them I found that they had an atmosphere all their 
own. The transition from house to street was less clearly marked than 
it is in Europe. No matter how smart the shop-front, the goods have a 
way of spilling over into the street, so that you hardly notice whether 
you are, or are not, inside the shop. The street is a place to be lived in, 
not a place to pass through. It is at once tranquil and animated more 
lively, and yet more sheltered, than our streets at home. Or, more 
exactly, what happens is this: the change of hemisphere, continent, and 
climate has made it unnecessary for the Brazilians to erect the thin glass 
roof which, in Europe, creates artificially something of the same sort. 
It is as if Rio had taken the Gallerias in Milan, the Amsterdam Galerij, 
or the Passage des Panoramas or the hall of the Gare St Lazare in Paris, 
and reconstituted them in the open air. 

People generally think of travel in terms of displacement in space, 
but a long journey exists simultaneously in space, in time, and in the 
social hierarchy* Our impressions must be related to each of these three 

9O The New World 

before we can define them properly; and as space alone has three 
dimensions all to itself we should need at least five to establish an 
adequate notion of travel. This I sensed as soon as I went ashore in 
Brazil. That I had crossed the Atlantic and the Equator and was near 
the tropics I knew from several infallible signs: among them, the easy 
going damp heat which emancipated my body from its normal layer 
of woollens and abolished the distinction (which I recognized, in 
retrospect, as one of the marks of our civilization) between indoors 
and outdoors . I soon found out that for this distinction the Brazilians 
had substituted another (that between mankind and the jungle) which 
does not exist in our entirely humanized landscapes. And then there 
were the palm-trees, the unfamiliar flowers, and in front of each cafe 
the heap of green coconuts which, when cut open, offered a cool 
sweet liquid that smelt of the cellar. 

Other changes struck me. I, who had been poor, was now rich. My 
material condition had changed, to begin with; and then the prices of 
local produce were incredibly low one franc for a pineapple, two 
francs a huge bunch of bananas, four francs for the chickei} that the 
Italian shopkeeper would roast for me on a spit. Quite magical, all this: 
and to it was added the slight recklessness which always attaches to a 
brief visit to somewhere new. The fact that one feels bound to profit by 
opportunities of this kind introduces, moreover, an element of 
ambiguity, which may well provoke the traveller to throw caution 
aside and embark upon the traditional bout of prodigality. Travel can, 
of course, have exactly the opposite effect this I was to experience 
when I arrived in New York after the armistice without a penny in my 
pockets but, generally speaking, it can hardly ever fail to wreak a 
transformation of some sort, great or small, and for better or for worse, 
in the situation of the traveller. He may go up in the world, or he may 
go down; and the feeling and flavour of the places he visits will be 
inseparable in his mind from the exact position in the social scale 
which he will have occupied there. 

There was a time when travel confronted the traveller with 
civilizations radically different from his own. It was their strangeness, 
above all, which impressed him. But these opportunities have been 
getting rarer and rarer for a very long time. Be it in India or in 
America, the traveller of our day finds things more familiar than he 
will admit. The aims and itineraries which we devise for ourselves are, 
above all, ways of being free to choose at what date we shall penetrate 
a given society. Our mechanistic civilization is overcoming all others, 

Guanabara 91 

but we can at least choose the speed at which it will be effecting its 
conquests. The search for the exotic will always bring us back to the 
same conclusion, but we can choose between an early or a late stage of 
its development. The traveller becomes a kind of dealer in antiques 
one who, having given up his gallery of primitive art for lack of stock, 
falls back on fusty souvenirs brought back from the flea-markets of the 
inhabited world. 

These differences can already be detected within any krge city. Just 
as each plant flowers at a particular season, so does each quarter of a 
great city bear the mark of the centuries which witnessed its growth, 
its apogee, and its decline. In Paris the Marais was at its zenith in the 
seventeenth century and is now far gone in decay. The pth arrondisse- 
ment flowered later, under the Second Empire, but it has now gone 
off considerably and its shabbified mansions have been given over to a 
lower-middle-class horde. As for the lyth arrondissement, it has 
remained set in its bygone luxury like a huge chrysanthemum whose 
long-dead head remains proudly erect. Only yesterday the i6th 
arrondissement was one long bedazzlement; today its blooms are 
giving way to an undergrowth of apartment-houses that is making it 
merge more and more into the suburbs. 

Where the comparison is between cities remote from one another 
both historically and geographically, certain rhythmic differences are 
added to the varying speeds of the cycle in question. The centre of Rio 
is very 1900-10 in character, but elsewhere you will find yourself 
in quiet streets and among long avenues bordered with palm-trees, 
mangoes, and clipped Brazilian rosewood-trees, where old-fashioned 
villas stand in gardens of their own. I was reminded (as I was, later, 
in the residential areas of Calcutta) of Nice or Biarritz in the time of 
Napoleon DDL The tropics are not so much exotic as out of date. It s 
not the vegetation which confirms that you are really there , but 
certain trifling architectural details and the hint of a way of life which 
would suggest that you had gone backwards in time rather than 
forwards across a great part of die earth s surface. 

Rio de Janeiro is not built like an ordinary city. Originally built on 
the flat and swampy area which borders the bay, it later pushed up 
into the gloomy escarpments which glower down on every side. Like 
fingers in a glove too small for them, the city s tentacles some of them 
fifteen or twenty miles long run up to the foot of granitic formations 
so steep that nothing can take root in them. (Just occasionally an 
isolated fragment of forest has grown up on a lonely terrace or deep 

92 The New World 

shaft in the rock; virgin it will remain, although sometimes from an 
aeroplane we seem almost to brush against its branches, as we skim 
along the cool and solemn corridor that runs between sumptuous rock 
tapestries.) Rio, so rich in hills, treats them with a scorn which does 
much to explain the shortage of water in its higher regions. It is, in this 
respect, the opposite of Chittagong, which lies on marshy ground in 
the Bay of Bengal; in Chittagong the rich set themselves apart alike 
from the oppressive heat and from the horrors of lower-class life by 
living in lonely bungalows set high on grassy hillocks of orange- 
coloured clay. In Rio, on the other hand, such is the reverberation of 
the heat on those strange granite skull-caps that the cool breezes below 
never get a chance to rise. The urbanists may have resolved the problem 
by now, but in 1935 the altimeter was also an unfailing index of social 
position; the higher you lived, the less important you were. Poverty 
perched on the hill-tops, where the black population lived in rags; only 
at carnival-time would they come swarming down into the city 
proper, there to sweep all before them with the tunes they had picked 
out, on high, on their guitars. 

Distance counts in Rio, just as height does. Follow any one of the 
tracks that lead up into the foothills and you will at once find yourself 
in a suburb. Botafogo, at the far end of the Avenue Rio Branco, was 
still a smart section; but after Flamengo you might think yourself in 
Neuilly, and towards the Copacabana tunnel you came, twenty-five 
years ago, upon St Denis and Le Bourget, plus a certain element of 
rustication, such as the suburbs of Paris must have had before the war 
of 1914. In Copacabana, which today bristles with skyscrapers, I saw 
merely a small provincial town. 

When I was leaving Rio for good, I went to an hotel on the flank 
of the Corcovado to call on some American colleagues. To get there, 
you took a rough-and-ready funicular which had been erected on the 
site of a landslide in a style half garage and half mountaineers cabin, 
with command-posts manned by attentive stewards: a sort of Luna 
Park. All this just to get to the top: the car was hauled up over patch 
after patch of chaotic mountainside almost vertical, often enough 
until in the end we got to a little residence of the Imperial era, a terrea 
house: single-storeyed, that is to say, stuccoed and painted ochre. We 
dined out, on a platform that had been turned into a terrace, and looked 
out across an incoherent mixture of concrete houses, shanties, and 
built-up areas of one sort or another. In the far distance, where one 
would have expected factory chimneys to round off the heterogeneous 

Guandbara 93 

scene, there was a shirting, satiny, tropical sea and, above it, an 
overblown full moon. 

I went back on board. The ship got under way, ablaze with light, 
and as it set the sea atremble with its passing the reflected lights looked 
like a street of ill fame on the move. Later it blew up for a storm and 
the open sea gleamed like the belly of some enormous animal. Mean 
while the moon was masked by scurrying clouds that the wind formed 
and reformed as zigzags, triangles, and crosses. These strange shapes 
were lit up, as if from within: as if an Aurora Borealis adapted to 
tropical usage were being projected on to the dark background of the 
sky. From time to time these smoky apparitions would allow us a 
glimpse of a reddish moon that looked, on its intermittent appearances, 
like a disquieted lantern wandering somewhere aloft. 

io Into the Tropics 

1 HE coastline from Rio to Santos still offers us the 
tropical landscape of our dreams. The mountains, at one point well over 
six thousand feet, run down steeply into the sea. Creeks and islets 
abound; and although there is beach after beach of fine sand, with 
coconut-trees and steamy forests overgrown with orchids, each is 
accessible only from the sea, so abrupt is the wall of sandstone or basalt 
behind them. Every fifty or sixty miles there s a little harbour where 
eighteenth-century houses, now in ruins, were built for the captains 
and vice-governors of times gone by. Fishermen live in them now; but 
Angra dos Reis, Ubatuba, Parati, Sao Sebastiao, and Villa Bella all 
served in their time as points of embarkation for diamonds, topazes, 
and chrysolites from the Minas Geraes, or general mines , of the 
kingdom. It took weeks to bring them down by mule-back through 
the mountains. But if today we search for mule-tracks along the tops 
of those mountains it seems incredible that the traffic was once so 
abundant that men could make a living by collecting the shoes lost by 
mules en route. 

Bougainville has described with what precautions the extraction 
and transport of these precious stones was surrounded. No sooner were 
they found than they had to be handed over to one of the company s 
depots: Rio des Morts, Sabara, Serro Frio each had one. There the 
royal percentage was exacted, and whatever remained for the indi 
vidual miner was given to him in bars marked with their weight, tide, 
and value, and also with the royal arms. Half-way between the mines 
and the coast there was a second control-point. A lieutenant and fifty 
men were charged with the collection of the ritual twenty per cent and 
of the tolls payable both for animals and for men. These taxes were 
shared between the King and the soldiers concerned; and so it s not 


Into the Tropics 95 

surprising that every party bound for the coast was searched Very 
thoroughly indeed . 

Private traders then took their bars of gold to the Mint in Rio 
de Janeiro, where they were exchanged for official currency demi- 
doubloons worth eight Spanish piastres, on each of which the King 
had a profit of one piastre on account of the alloyage and die tax on 
money. Bougainville adds that the Mint is one of the finest in existence; 
and it has all the equipment which it needs to work as quickly as 
possible. As the gold comes down from the mines just as the fleet arrives 
from Portugal there is no time to be lost in the striking of the money. 
This is, indeed, carried out with astonishing speed. 

Where diamonds are concerned the system was even more rigorous, 
and Bougainville tells us that individual entrepreneurs were compelled 
to give up every single stone that they found. These were then con 
signed to a triple-locked box which, in its turn, was locked within two 
other boxes, each sealed by a high official. Not till the whole consign 
ment was safely in Lisbon was it allowed to be opened, and then only 
in the presence of the King himself, who took such diamonds as he 
wanted himself and paid for them according to a fixed tariff. 

Of all the intense activity which, in the year 1762 alone, resulted in 
the transport, supervision, striking, and despatch of more than a ton and 
a half of gold, nothing now remains along a coastline that has reverted 
to its paradisal beginnings: nothing, that is to say, save here and there a 
lonely and majestic house-front at the hi end of a creek, with the sea 
still beating against the high walls where once the galleons moored. 
We would gladly believe that a few barefooted natives have alone had 
the run of those grandiose forests, those unblemished bights, those 
steep rock-faces; but it was there, on the high plateaux above the sea, 
that two centuries ago the destiny of the modern world was forged in 
Portuguese workshops. 

The world, gorged with gold, began to hunger after sugar; and 
sugar took a lot of skves. When the mines were exhausted and, with 
them, the forests which had to be torn down to provide fuel for the 
crucibles and slavery had been abolished, there arose an ever-greater 
demand for coffee. Sao Paulo and Santos, its port, were sensitive to this, 
and their gold, which had been first yellow, and then white, became 
bkck. But although Santos was to become a centre of international 
commerce its site has never quite lost its secret beauty; it was there, as 
the boat nosed its way slowly through the islands, that I made my first 
direct contact with the tropics. Green leaves pressed all around us. We 

96 The New World 

could almost have reached out and touched the vegetation which, in 
Rio, is kept at a distance in high-lying greenhouses. , 

The country behind Santos is made up of inundated flatlands: a 
network of swamps and rivers and canals and lagoons, with a mother- 
of-pearly exhalation to smudge every contour. It looks as the earth 
must have looked on the day of creation. The banana-plantations are 
the freshest and most tender of imaginable greens; they are sharper in 
key than the greeny-gold of the jute-fields in the Brahmaputra delta, 
and where the jute-fields have a tranquil sumptuosity the Santos 
hinterland has a delicacy of nuance and an uneasy charm that relates us 
to a primordial state of things. For half an hour the motor runs between 
the banana-trees mastodon vegetables, rather than dwarf-trees with 
sap-laden trunks, a great quantity of elastic leaves, and beneath many of 
those leaves a hundred-fingered hand emerging from a huge and pink- 
and-chestnut lotus. Then the road climbs to two thousand five hundred 
feet: the summit of the serra. As everywhere along the coast, the steep 
slopes have kept the forests free of our humankind, with the result that 
they are not merely virgin , but of a luxuriance for which you would 
have to go several thousand miles north near the basin of the Amazon, 
in fact to find the equal. As we crawled up the unending spiral of the 
road, layer upon layer of plants and trees was laid out for inspection, 
as if in a museum. 

The forest differs from our own by reason of the contrast between 
trunks and foliage. The leafage is darker and its nuances of green seem 
related rather to the mineral than to the vegetable world, and among 
minerals nearer to jade and tourmalin than to emerald and chrysolite. 
On the other hand, the trunks, white or grey in tone, stand out like 
dried bones against the dark background of the leaves. Too near to 
grasp the forest as a whole, I concentrated on details. Plants were more 
abundant than those we know in Europe. Leaves and stalks seemed to 
have beeipi cut out of sheet metal, so majestic was their bearing, so 
impervious, as it seemed, the splendid development of their forms. 
Seen from outside, it was as if Nature in those regions was of a different 
order from the Nature we know: more absolute in its presence and its 
permanence. As in thq exotic landscapes of the Douanier Rousseau, 
beings attained the dignity of objects. 

Once before I had experienced something of the same sort: during 
a first holiday in Provence, after several years vacationing in Nor 
mandy and Brittany. It was rather as if I had been whisked from a 
village of no interest to a site where every stone was of archaeological 



i Virgin forest in Parana 

4-5 Caduveo women with painted faces 


If 1 , 

6 A Caduveo belle in 1895 (after Boggiani) 

7 Face-painting; an original drawing by a Caduveo woman 

8 Another face-painting, drawn by a native 

9 Another face-painting, drawn by a native 

^- - ^- \ Jt lii^ I 



10 A Caduveo girl dressed and painted for the rites of puberty 












12 A Bororo couple 


i 1 





T 5 Funeral dance 

16 Dance of the Paiwe clan 

~ . aMSWB_.. 

.: IMHfflfflMP * 

itlsiffe.* aHfinail 













19 The Nambikwara tribe on the move 


20 Resting 


* _.# * 

KY rn. 

21 A leaf shelter in the dry season 

22 Little girl with a monkey 

23 Building a hut for the rainy season 

^ **4 * 

28 The Nambikwara the bracelet on the upper arm 

oosition of the no-lit- Vcmrl 

25 Sabane the sorcerer 

I * 







27 Preparing curare 

33 A Nambikwara family 

34 Siesta 

48 The Mundf village amidst its plantations 

49 The Munde village square 

50 A Munde man 

with lip-plugs of 

hardened resin 

59 Kunhatsin, chief wife of Taperahi, with her child 

60 Pwereza, 
Taperahi s son 

<6i Penhana, the 

young wife of the 

two brothers 

Into the Tropics 97 

importance: a witness, and not merely part of a house. I ran about the 
countryside in high excitement, telling myself over and over again that 
the growing things before me were called thyme, rosemary, basil, 
laurel, lavender, marjoram, and arbutus, and that each had a nobility 
all its own. The heavy resinous smells convinced me that I was in the 
presence of a superior order of vegetable things. What the flora of 
Provence proved to me by their smells, the flora of the tropics proved 
by their forms. Provence was a living herbal, as rich in receipts as in 
superstitions; but in the tropics the vegetable troupe took on another 
guise that of a corps de ballet of great dancers, each of whom had 
parsed at her moment of highest advantage, as it to make manifest a 
Grand Design the more evident for having no longer anything to fear 
of life; a ballet of no motion, with nothing now to disturb it but 
certain mineral agitations of the springs far below. 

Once at the top, all is changed again. Gone are the damp heat of 
the tropics and the heroic entanglements of rock-face and liana. 
Instead of the enormous self-reflecting panorama that stretches from 
the serra to the sea we survey, in the opposite direction, an accidented 
and disgarnished plateau where crest succeeds ravine, and ravine crest, 
beneath an undependable sky. A Breton drizzle falls over all. For we 
are at nearly three thousand feet, although the sea is not far distant. At 
this point there begin the uplands proper a continual ascent in which 
the coastal chain is the first and steepest step. To the north, these 
uplands gradually fall away towards the basin of the Amazon where, 
two thousand miles away, they fall abruptly to sea-level. Twice, 
however, their descent is interrupted by a line of cliffs: Serra de 
Botucatu, some three hundred miles from the coast, and Chapada de 
Mato Grosso, a further seven hundred and fifty miles onwards. I was 
to negotiate them both before coming upon a forest comparable to this 
oiie. Most of Brazil, with the Atlantic, the Amazon, and Paraguay as 
its boundaries, is like a sloping table-top with a high rim at the edge of 
tlie sea: or a crinkled springboard of bush surrounded by a damp circle 
of jungle and swamp. 

Erosion had done much to ravage the country before me; but above 
all Man was responsible for its chaotic appearance. Originally it had 
been dug and cultivated; but after a few years continual rain and the 
exhaustion of the soil made it impossible to keep the coffee-plantations 
in being. They were therefore moved to an area where the soil was 
fresher and more fertile. The relationship between Man and the siol 
had never been marked by that reciprocity of attentions which, in the 

98 The New WorU 

Old World, has existed for thousands of years and been the basis of our 
prosperity. Here in Brazil the soil had been first violated, then des 
troyed. Agriculture had been a matter of looting for quick profits. 
Within a hundred years, in fact, the pioneers had worked their way 
like a slow fire across the State of Sao Paulo, eating into virgin territory 
on the one side, leaving nothing but exhausted fallow land on the 
other. Begun in the middle of the nineteenth century by mineiros who 
had exhausted their seams, this form of agriculture had proceeded 
from east to west; and before long I was to meet it on. the far side of 
the Parana river, where confusion reigned, with felled trunks on the 
one hand and uprooted families on the other. 

The road from Santos to Sao Paulo runs through one of the first 
territories to be exploited by the colonists. It has, therefore, the air of an 
archaeological site in which a vanished agriculture may be studied. 
Once-wooded hills offer their bone-structure for our inspection with, 
at most, a thin covering of sickly grass upon it. We can make out here 
and there earthworks which mark where a coffee-plantation once 
stood; they jut out like atrophied breasts through the grassy embank 
ments. In the valleys the region has, as it were, gone back to Nature; 
but not to the noble architecture of the primeval forest. The capoeira^ 
or secondary forest, is a mere wretched entanglement of half-hearted 
trees. Sometimes, too, we glimpsed the dwelling of some Japanese 
emigrant who was trying, by some archaic method, to regenerate a 
patch of land and set up a market garden there. 

To the European traveller, this is a disconcerting, because an 
undassifiable, landscape. We know nothing of untamed Nature, 
because our own landscape is entirely subject to our needs and desires. 
If it sometimes strikes us as untamed, it is either because in our 
forests, for instance its changes operate to a slower rhythm; or because 
as in the mountains the problems were of such complexity that 
Man has tackled them in detail rather than in one systematic assault. 
Such coherence as has resulted from these innumerable individual 
initiatives now seems to share the original primitive character of the 
mountain-world, whereas in fact it is due to an interlocking chain of 
decisions and enterprises, each of which seemed at the time to be 
independent of the others. 

Yet even the wildest of European landscapes has something of order 
and proportion about it. (Poussin was the incomparable interpreter of 
this.) Walk among our mountains and you will notice the contrast 
between forest and bare slope, the relation between the forest and the 

Into the Tropics pp 

meadows below it: and the variety of expression which comes about as 

first one kind of vegetation, and then another, dominates the scene 

Travel in America, and you will realize that this sublime harmony, 
far from being the spontaneous expression of Nature herself, is the 
result of agreements long sought for between mankind and the site in 
question. What causes us to gape, in all simplicity, are the traces of our 
bygone enterprise. 

In inhabited America and this applies to the north as well as to 
the south, with the exception of more thickly populated areas like 
Mexico, central America, and the plateaux of the Andes, where some 
thing approaching a European situation has come about we have only 
two alternatives before us. The one is a Nature so ruthlessly put to 
work in our service that the result is more like an open-air factory than 
a landscape (I am thinking now of the cane-fields in the Antilles, and 
the maize-fields in the corn-belt). The other is of the kind that I shall 
be considering in a moment or two an area where Man has presided 
for long enough to ruin the scene, but not for so long that a slow and 
continuous process of accommodation has re-raised it to the level of 
a landscape . In the outskirts of Sao Paulo, as later in the State of New 
York, in Connecticut, and even in the Rocky Mountains, I became 
familiar with a Nature which, though more savage than our own, 
because less populated and less under cultivation, had yet lost all its 
original freshness: Nature not so much wild as degraded. 

These patches of dead ground as big as counties, maybe were 
once owned, and once briefly worked, by Man. Then he went off 
somewhere else and left behind him a battleground strewn with the 
relics of his brief tenure. And over the area which, for a decade or two, 
he had striven to convert to his uses, there has arisen a new, disorderly, 
and monotonous vegetation. Its disorder is the more deceptive because, 
beneath its look of innocence, it has preserved intact the memory and 
the outline of the struggles of long ago. 

II Sao Paulo 



.HE cities of the New World have one character 
istic in common: that they pass from first youth to decrepitude with 
no intermediary stage. One of my Brazilian girl-students returned in 
tears from her first visit to France: whiteness and cleanness were the 
criteria by which she judged a city, and Paris, with its blackened 
buildings, had seemed to her filthy and repugnant. But American 
cities never offer that holiday-state, outside of time, to which great 
monuments can transport us; nor do they transcend the primary urban 
function and become objects of contemplation and reflection. What 
struck me about New York, or Chicago, or their southerly counterpart 
Sao Paulo, was not the absence of ancient remains ; this is, on the 
contrary, a positive element in their significance. So far from joining 
those European tourists who go into sulks because they cannot add 
another thirteentt-century cathedral to their collection, I am delighted 
to adapt myself to a system that has no backward dimension in rime; 
and I enjoy having a different form of civilization to interpret. If I err, 
it is in the opposite sense: as these are new cities, and cities whose 
newness is their whole being and their justification, I find it difficult 
to forgive them for not staying new for ever. The older a European 
city is, the more highly we regard it; in America, every year brings 
with it an element of disgrace. For they are not merely newly built ; 
they are built for renewal, and the sooner the better. When a new 
quarter is run up it doesn t look like a city, as we understand the word; 
it s too brilliant, too new, too high-spirited. It reminds us more of our 
fairgrounds and temporary international exhibitions. But these arc 
buildings that stay up long after our exhibitions would have closed, 
and they don t last well: facades begin to peel off, rain and soot leave 
their marks, the style goes out of fashion, and the original lay-out is 


Sao Paulo IOI 

mined when someone loses patience and tears down the buildings 
next door. It is not a case of new dries contrasted with old, but rather 
of cities whose cycle of evolution is very rapid as against others whose 
cycle of evolution is slow. Certain European cities are dying off slowly 
and peacefully; the cities of the New World have a perpetual high 
temperature, a chronic illness which prevents them, for all their 
everlasting youthfulness, from ever being entirely well. 

What astonished me in Sao Paulo in 1935, and in New York and 
Chicago in 1941, was not their newness, but the rapidity with which 
time s ravages had set in. I knew that these cities had started ten 
centuries behind our own, but I had not realized, somehow, that large 
areas in them were already fifty years old and were not ashamed to let 
it be seen. For their only ornament was their youth, and youth is as 
fugitive for a city as for the people who live in it. Old ironwork, trams 
red as fire-engines, mahogany bars with balustrades of polished brass; 
brickyards in deserted alleys where the wind was the only street- 
cleaner; countrified parish churches next door to office buildings and 
stock exchanges built in the likeness of cathedrals; apartment-houses 
green with age that overhung canyons criss-crossed with fire-escapes, 
swing-bridges, and the like; a city that pushed continually upwards as 
new buildings were built on the ruins of their predecessors: such was 
Chicago, image of the Americas, and it isn t surprising that the New 
World should cherish in Chicago the memory of the i88os, for this 
modest perspective, less than a century in extent, is all that antiquity 
can mean in those parts. To our millenary cities it would hardly serve 
even as a unit of judgment, but in Chicago, where people do not think 
in terms of time, it already offers scope for nostalgia. 

In 1935 the people of Sao Paulo liked to boast that their city was 
expanding at the rate of a house every hour. Villas they were, at that 
date; but I m told that the rate remains the same, though the figures 
now apply to office or apartment buildings. Sao Paulo is growing so 
fast that you can t buy a map of it; there d have to be a new edition 
every week. And if you take a taxi to an address that you fixed on 
several weeks ahead, you run the risk of getting there the day before 
the house has gone up. That being so, my recollections of a quarter of 
a century ago can be of, at most, documentary interest: I offer them to 
the municipal archives. 

Sao Paulo was thought ugly at that time. The big buildings in the 
centre were pompous and outmoded, and their ornamentation was as 
shoddy in execution as it was pretentious and vapid in design. Statues 

102 The New World 

and rdfcfe were in plaster* not stone, and a hasty coat of yellow paint 
did little to coticeal the feet. Where real stone is in question, the 
eaeteavagaaces of the 1890 style may be excused, in part, by the sheer 
heaviness and density of the material; but in Sao Paulo the improv 
isations had the air of an architectural leprosy, or a dream city run up 
foe the cinema. 

Yet I never found it an ugly city, for all the faked colours that 
brightened the shadows and the too-narrow streets where the air could 
not circulate. It was an untamed city as are all American cities save, 
perhaps, Washington, D.CX, which is like a captive dying of boredom 
in the star-shaped avenoeK^ge devised for it by L EnfanL Sao Paulo at 
that time was running quite wild. Originally it was built on a spur- 
shaped terrace that faced north, at the point whore two little rivers meet 
Ac Anhaogabahu and the Tamanduatehy these kter joined the Rio 
Tiefse, a tributary of the Parana. Its function was simply to get the 
b*diaus under control : it was a missionary centre at which, from the 
sixteenth century onwards, Portuguese Jesuits did their best to round 
up the natives antd initiate them into the blessings of civilization. There 
were still, even in 1935, a few rusticated alleyways up on the spit of 
kad dial drops down towards the Tamanduateby and dominated the 
quartos of Ae Braz and the Peuha. There were also a few 
: gas$-g0wa squares smrocinded by low rife-roofed houses with 
all grilled windows. Tbe houses wore painted with chalk and beside 
them was an austoe parish church with no other decoration than, the 
double accolade that cut out a baroque pediment on the upper part of 
the facade. In die distance to the north the Tiete s silvery meanderings 
began to widen out into marshlands, and from marshlands into centres 
of population, each surrounded by an irregular circle of suburbs and 
plots of land. Immediately behind these was the commercial centre of 
the city which, in style and aspirations, had remained faithful to the 
Expodiimi Universelk of 1889: the Pra9a da Se, Place de la Cathedrale, 
midway between the builder s yard and complete ruin. Then the 
famous Triangle, as dear to Sao Paulo as the Loop is to Chicago a 
tmsiBess area formed by die intersection of the Rues Direita, Sao Bento, 
and 15-Novembre. These were streets filled with trade-signs, where 
the busy dark-suited men of affairs proclaimed not only their 
allegiance to European or North American ways but their pride in the 
two thousand five hundred feet above sea4etfe! which raised them high 
above the torpors of the tropks. 

The tropics made themselves felt, none the less. In January, for 

Sao Paulo IO3 

instance, the rains do not arrive ; they grow spontaneously from the 
dampness that pervades the city. It s as if the omnipresent steam had 
materialized itself into pearly drops of water that were yet arrested, as 
they fell, by their affinity with the surrounding atmosphere. The rain 
does not fall straight, as in Europe; it s more like a pale scintillation, a 
multitude of tiny water-globes that mingle with the dampness in the 
air. A waterfall, one might say, of dear soup with tapioca in it. Nor 
does the rain stop when the clouds blow over: it stops when the 
atmosphere has been disembarrassed of a certain surplus humidity by 
the very passage of the rain. The sky lightens, at such times, and a very 
pale blue can be glimpsed between the blond clouds, and torrents lifce 
mountain streams come coursing down the street. 

At the northern corner of the terrace a vast workshop came into 
view: the Avenida Sao Joao, several miles in length, whkh was being 
built parallel to the Tiete along the route of the old North Rood 
towards Ytu, Sorocaba, and the rich Campinas plantations. To the 
right, it passed the Rue Horencio-de-Abreu which led off to the 
station, between the Syrian bazaars, purveyors of heterogeneous 
rubbish to the entire interior, and the tranquil workshops where 
weavers and leather-workers were still (but for how much longer?) 
producing high saddles of tooled leather, horse-blankets of tufted 
cotton, and harnesses embellished with chased silver, all for the me 
of the planters and peons who lived in the nearby busk HK& the 
Avenue passed Sao Paulo s only at that time skyscraper, the pink and 
still-unfinished Predio Martinelli; crossed the Campos flyseos, once the 
preserve of the rich, whore painted wooden villas were going to rot 
in gardens of .mango- and eucalyptus-trees; and then the woiklog-dass 
Santa Ifigenia, on the edge of whkh was a brothel quarter where the 
girls solicited from their windows. On the far edge of the city were dbe 
petit-bourgeois smallholdings of Perdizes and Agua Branca; to tie 
south-west these merged into the shady and more aristocratic hillside 

Towards the south, the terrace rose steadily in height; and along its 
backbone, as it were, ran the Avenida Paulista, where the millionaires 
of half a century earlier had built their once-luxurious residences in a 
style half casino, half spa. But the millionaires had moved on since then, 
and in concert with the general expansion of the city had gone down 
the hill to the south. And there, in undisturbed suburbs with winding 
roads, they had built themselves houses Califbrnian in style, with 
micaceous cement and wrought-iron balustrades; these could be 

104 The New World 

glimpsed, at most, in among the thick woods that came ready-made 
with the building plots. 

Certain privileged parts of the city seemed to combine all its 
dements. At the point, for instance, where two roads diverge on their 
way towards the sea, you found yourself on the edge of the Rio 
Anhangabahu ravine, which is crossed by a bridge that is one of the 
city s main arteries. Below was a park designed on English lines: lawns 
embellished with statues and kiosks; and at the point where the two 
slopes rose up were the city s principal buildings the municipal 
theatre, the Hotel Esplanada, the Automobile Club, and the offices 
of the Canadian company which provided the city with lighting and 
public transport. 

Here, among these massive but transitional erections, the elite of 
Sao Paulo was to be found. In many ways these people were strikingly 
like their favourite orchids; botanists tell us, for instance, that whereas 
tropical species are much more numerous than those of more temperate 
zones, each species may consist of only a small number of individuals. 
The local graojina had brought this to a point of extreme development. 

The available roles had been allotted among a society that was none 
too mmeroiis for them, Every occupation, every taste, every form of 
curiosity allowed by modem civilization could be found in Sao Paulo, 
but eaA was i^ef^Eeseatsed by a single person, Our friends were not so 
much people as functions, and the role assigEied to them was theirs not 
because of its intonsk importance but because it happened to be free. 
There were, for instance, tie Cadiolic, the liberal, the Legitimist, 
and die Communist; on another level there were the Gourmet, the 
BiHk>phile, the Lover of the Thoroughbred (horse, or dog), or of the 
Old Masters, or Modem Art; and the local Savant, Musicologist, 
Artist, and Surrealist Poet* Not that any of these people wished to carry 
their studies very far: vacant possession was what counted, and if any 
two peopk turned out to overlap in any way, they set about destroying 
one another with a ferocity and a persistence that were quite remark 
able. There were, on die other hand, any number of intellectual 
exchanges* and a general desire, not merely to stand up for one s own 
preoccupation, but to perfect the collective execution of what seemed 
to be an inexhaustibly enjoyable sociological minuet. 

Certain roles were played with tremendous dash, Inherited means, 
innate charm, and an acquired mastery of polite deception made the 
salons of Sao Paulo as amusing as they were, in the end, frustrating. The 
necessity of presenting a complete, if small-scale, model of the great 

Sao Paulo IO 

world obliged the players to admit of certain paradoxes: tie Com 
munist, for instance, was also the richest of the heirs to the local feudal 
system, and the avant-garde poet was allowed to introduce his young 
mistress into even the most prudish of local drawing-rooms. 

This high degree of specialization was combined with an encyclo 
paedic appetite for knowledge. Cultivated Brazilians took an immense 
delight in popular manuals of all kinds. Instead of preening themselves 
on the high standing (which at that time had no rival) of our country 
abroad, our ministers would have done better to understand what it 
was based on; it was inspired not by our declining activities in the field 
of creative science, but by the skill with which our men of learning 
could make accessible to everyone the solutions and discoveries to 
which they had made some modest contribution. If France was loved 
in South America it was because the South Americans, like ourselves, 
were at heart inclined rather to consume, and to make it easy for others 
to consume, than to produce. The names held in honour in Sooth 
America were names from the past: Pasteur, Curie, Durkheim. 
Admittedly that past was near enough for us to draw a substantial 
credit from it: but our clients again like ourselves preferred to 
dilapidate that credit, rather than to reinvest it. And we spared them 
the trouble of making discoveries* of their own. 

It is sad to have to realize that France is no longer in a position to 
act as the public relations officer 5 of the mind. We seem to have stock 
fast in the nineteenth-century conception of science, according to which 
anyone with the traditional French qualities of general cultivation, 
vivacity, and lucidity of mind, a gift for logic, and the ability to write* 
could turn to any field in science, rethink it for himself in isolation, and 
produce a valid synthesis. Modern science has no place for that sort of 
thing. Where once a single specialist could render his country famous, 
we now need an army of them; and we haven t got it. Creative science 
has become a collective, almost an anonymous, activity, and one for 
which we could not be worse prepared. We still have our old-style 
virtuosi; but no amount of style in the playing can go on concealing 
the absence of the score. 

Countries younger than ours have learnt this lesson; Brazil had had 
outstanding men, but they had been few in number: Eudides da Cunha, 
Oswaldo Cruz, Chagas, Villa Lobos. Culture had been the preserve of 
a few rich people; and it was to create an informed public and one 
that would owe nothing to the traditional influence of Army and 
Church that the University of Sao Paulo was founded. 

io6 The New World 

When I arrived in Brazil to teach in this new University I took pity 
on my Brazilian colleagues. Wretchedly paid, they could exist only by 
talnrtg on extra work of some humble sort. I was proud to belong to 
a country where the exercise of a liberal profession had had its prestige 
and its privileges for many generations. What I did not foresee was that 
twenty years later my poverty-stricken students would be occupying 
University Chairs more numerous and often better equipped than our 
own, with libraries at their disposition such as few of us can count on 
in France. 

The students who crowded into our lecture-rooms were of all ages 
and had come from hi and wide, not without certain misgivings, to 
study with us. There were young people hungry for the jobs which 
our diplomas would equip them for; people already established in life 
lawyers, politicians, engineers who feared that unless they, too, got 
a University degree they would be ill able to compete with their 
graduate rivals. They were one and all would-be men of the world with 
a passion for disparagement. This was inspired in part by that concept 
of nineteenthrK^ntury Parisian life which originated with Meilhac and 
Halvy and was being carried on by one or two Brazilians; but their 
TQgjfi inspiration was something as evident in the Paris of a hundred 
years ago as in the Sao Paulo or Rio de Janeiro of 1930: the need of the 
new-fledged metropolitan to prove that he had really got dear of 
country ways. The despised image of rustic simplicity was symbolized 
for our students by the cmpira the country bumpkin, that is to say 
just as in our tk&fere du boulevard the native of Arpajon or Charen- 
tomeau was the butt of one and all One instance of this dubious 
humour comes back to me as I write. 

The Italian colony had erected a statue of Augustus in the middle of 
those unending countrified streets that stretch for several miles from the 
centre of the city. It was a reproduction in bronze, life-size, of an ancient 
marble statue. No great shakes as a work of art, it was at least deserving 
of some respect in a city where it aloae evoked a period earlier than the 
nineteenth century. The people of S&o Paulo decided, however, that 
the Emperor s uplifted arm indicated that Carlito lives here ; Carlos 
Pereira de Souza, a prominent Brazilian politician, was in effect the 
owner, in that very direction, of a large villa, now considerably 
dilapidated, whose rosettes and volutes were meant to hark back to the 
luxuries of the colonial era. 

It was also agreed that Augustus was wearing shorts; humour 
played only a half-share in this, for most of the population had never 

S&> Paulo 107 

seen a toga before and had no idea what it was. These jests went all over 
Sao Paulo an hour after the unveiling and were repeated, with many a 
thump in the back, at the exclusive* performance of that evening at the 
Odeon cinema. Thus did the bourgeoisie of Sao Paulo avenge them 
selves on the Italian immigrants who, from having arrival in the city 
fifty years earlier as pedlars, had worked their way up to become the 
owners of the most ostentatious villas on the Avenidas* and the 
donors of the statue in question. 

Our students wanted to know everything: but only the newest 
theory seemed to them worth bothering with. Knowing nothing of the 
intellectual achievements of the past, they kept fresh and intact their 
enthusiasm for the latest thing*. Fashion dominated their interests: they 
valued ideas not for themselves but for the prestige that they could 
wring from them. That prestige vanished as soon as the idea passed 
from their exclusive possession; there was great competition, therefore, 
for the magazines and handbooks and popular* studies that would 
empower them to get a lead over their fellows, and my colleagues and 
I suffered much from this. Ourselves trained to respect only those 
ideas which had been fully matured, we were besieged by students who 
knew nothing at all of the past but were always a month or two ahead 
of us in the novelties of the day. Learning was something for which 
they had neither the taste nor the methods; yet they felt bound to 
include in their essays, no matter what their nominal subject might be, 
a survey of human evolution from the anthropoid apes to the present 
day. Quotations from Plato, Aristotle, and Auguste Comte would 
be followed by a peroration paraphrased from some egregious hack 
the obscurer the better, for their purpose since their rivals would be 
the less likely to have happened upon him. 

Our students regarded the University as a tempting, but also 
a poisonous, fruit. These young people had seen nothing of the world, 
and most of them were too poor to have any hopes of travelling to 
Europe. To many, we were suspect as representatives of the ruling class 
and beneficiaries of a cosmopolitanism which cut across the life and the 
national aspirations of Brazil. Yet we bore in our hands the apples of 
knowledge; and therefore our students wooed and rebuffed us, by turns. 
We came to judge of our influence by the size and quality of the little 
groups which grew up around us, each anxious to outdo the other. 
Homenajes manifestations in honour of the preferred teacher took 
the form of luncheon- or tea-parties which we found the more touck- 
ing because they must have meant real privation for our hosts. Our 

io8 The New World 

personal standing, and the standing of the methods we taught, would 
go up and down like stock-market quotations according to the prestige 
of the establishment concerned, the number of people involved, and 
the social or official position of the personalities who had consented 
to attend. As each of the major nations had its embassy in Sao-Paulo 
the English tea-room, the French or Viennese confectioners , and the 
German brasserie the choice of meeting-place had many a serpentine 

If these lines should come to the notice of any of those who, once 
delightful students, are now my respected colleagues I must ask them 
not to resent what I say. When I think of you it is by your Christian 
names, according to your custom: rich and strange they are, to a 
European ear, and proof of how your fathers were still free to range 
over the whole of human history to find just the name that would suit 
your own fragrant beginnings. Anita, you were called, and Corina, and 
Zenaide, and Lavinia, and Thais, and Gioconda, and Gilda, and Oneide, 
and LiiciHa, and Zenith^ and Cecilia. And you others were called Egon, 
and Mario-Wagner, and Nkanor, and Ruy, and livio, and James, and 
Azor, and Achilles, and Deck), and Euclides, and Milton. It is not in 
irony that I recall Aose first ioitant days. Quite the contrary: for they 
taugbt nie !x>w precarious are the advantages conferred by time. I think 
of what Europe was then, and of what it is now; I realize that you have 
made inrfbctaal advances, in the last thirty years, of a kind which one 
might expect to take several generations; and I see how one society dies 
aadanotiiex comes into bang. I see, too, that the great upheavals which 
seem, from the history-books, to result from the play of nameless 
forces in the heart of darkness, may also be brought about, in an 
instant of lucidity, by the virility and set purpose of a handful of 
gifted young people. 


A Land and its People 

12 Town and Country 


J.HBRE was a certain amount of Soiiday-anthro- 
pologizing to be done in Sao Paulo. But it was not among tie Indians 
in the suburbs* whom I had been so niisleadingly promised; die suburbs 
were either Syrian or Italian. The nearest ethnological curiosity was to 
be found some ten miles away, in a primitive village whose tatter 
demalion inhabitants bore, in their fair hair and blue eyes* the marks of 
a recent Germanic ancestry. It was, in fact, around the year 1820 that 
groups of German colonists had come over to settle in tie least-tropical 
parts of the country. Around Sao Paulo they were to a large degpnee 
dispersed among the near-destitute local peasantry; bet farther sooth, 
in the State of Santa Catarina, the little towns of Joinvilk and Blumenau 
had kept intact, beneath thearaucarias, a nmetemdwOTtuiy dcor. Hie 
streets, lined by steep-roofsed houses, had German names; German was 
tie only language spoken. On tie cafe terraces old men with mo- 
taches and whiskers could be seen smoking long pipes with bowls made 
of porcelain. 

There were also many Japanese in die region round Sao Paolo, 
These were less easily approached. TJ^iminigi^lio 
they travelled free, they were guaranteed a tmpocary lodging on 
arrival, and eventually they were distributed among farms, in the 
interior, which wore half village half military-cainp in character. 
Every aspect of life was catered for; schools, workshops, infirmary, 
shops, entertairanent~-al were available on die spot. The emigrants 
remained there for long periods in virtual isolation. The organizing 
company naturally did all it could to encourage this, and the emigrants 
meanwhile paid off the money owed to die company and salted away 
their earnings in its coffers. Tlie company undertook to ship diem home 
in due time, so that they could die in the country of their ancestors; and 
if the malaria got the better of them while they were still in Brazil, then 


H2 A Land and its People 

their bodies, at least, were repatriated. Everything possible was done to 
persuade the emigrants that during the entire course of this great 
adventure they were always, as it were, in Japan. The organizers* 
motives may not, however, have been exclusively financial, economic, 
or humanitarian. Close study of the map seems to suggest that strategy 
also may have prompted the location of certain farms. It was very 
difficult to get the offices of the Raigai-Iju-Kumiai and the 
Brazilr-Takahoka-Kumiai, and harder still to penetrate the almost 
clandestine network of hotels, hospitals, brickyards, and saw-mills to 
which the emigrants owed their self-sufficiency. In all this, and in the 
choice of the areas for cultivation, certain devious designs could be 
glimpsed. The segregation of the colonists in areas ingeniously chosen, 
and the pursuit of such archaeological studies as could be combined 
with the work of agriculture (the detection, for instance, of analogies 
between Japanese neolithic artifacts and those of pre-Colombian Brazil) 
these may well have been merely the visible extremities of a tortuous 
and subterranean policy. 

In die heart of Sao Paulo several of the markets in the poorer 
quarters were run by coloured people. But perhaps the word coloured 7 
has litde meaning in a country where a great diversity of racial strains 
and in the past, at any rate an almost complete lack of colour- 
prejudice has led to every kind of cross-breeding. Let us rather say that 
the visitor could train himself to distinguish the mestizos (black crossed 
witli white), the aAocks (white crossed with Indian), and the cafusos 
(Hack crossed with Indian). The goods on offer displayed, by contrast, 
an unmixed ancestry. 

There was, for instance, thepeneiras, or sieve for manioc flour. This 
was of characteristic Indian design, and composed of a rough trellis- 
wodk of split bamboo-stalks held in place by a circular batten. And the 
afKmk0s+ with which the Indians fanned their flames. These were also 
of traditional design, and it was amusing to study them closely. Palm- 
leaves are by nature tousled and pervioos, and to plait them in such a 
way that they formed a single hard smooth surface and could be used 
to set the ak in motion was a considerable technical feat. As there were 
several sorts of palm4eaf--and many ways, too, of plaiting them the 
fans took on every conceivable shape: each illustrating, as it were, the 
solution of a particular technical theorem. 

There are two main species ofpalm4ea In the one, the folioles are 
distributed symmetrically on either side of a central stalk; in the other, 
they fan out from their base. In the first case, two methods suggest 

Re. i. A figa found at Pompeii 
(die tip of the Anmb has 
been broken) 

themselves: either you fold all the folioles over on one side of the stalk 
and plait them together, or you plait each group individually, folding 
the folioles at right angles to one another arid inserting the bottom of 
one into the top of the other, and vice versa. You then have two sorts 
of fan: one wing-shaped, the other like a butterfly. The butterfly type 
offers many possibilities: and these are always, in varying degree, a 
combination of two others. Hie final result, whether shaped like a 
spoon, a palette, or a rosette, reminds one of a sort of big flattened 

Another very attractive speciality of the Sao Paulo markets was the 
jiga, or fig. This was an ancient Mediterranean talisman in the shape of 
a fore-arm ending in a clenched fist; die thumb peeped out between the 
first joints of tie second and third fingers. Doubtless this was probaHy 
a symbol of sexual intercourse, fbefgas to be seen in S5o Pado were 
either trinkets of silver or ebony, or objects as big as street-signs, naive 
in design and brilliantly coloured. I used to hang them in hilarious 
groups from the ceiling of my house a villa painted ochre, in the 
Rome, 1900* style, and situated in the upper part of the town. The 
entrance was overhung with jasmine and to the rear there was a little 
oldr-fashioned garden in which I had asked my landlord to plant a 
banana-tree by way of assurance that I was really in the tropics. After a 
few years this symbolic banana-tree turned into a small forest and 
provided me with great quantities of fruit 
H 113 

1 14 A Land and its People 

A certain amount of work could also be done, in the outskirts of 
Sao Paulo, on surviving tribal customs: May-day festivities where the 
village was hung with green palm-leaves; commemorative contests 
between mouros and cristaos, in which Portuguese tradition was faith 
fully observed; the procession of the nau catarineta, with a cardboard 
boat decked out with paper sails. And there was the pilgrimage to 
certain distant leper-protecting parishes: here the foul-smelling pinga 
would circulate (pinga is an alcoholic drink made from cane-sugar, 
though not at all like rum: it is drunk either neat or mixed with 
the juice of a lemon). Half-caste bards high-booted, dressed with 
a strange gaudy fancy, drunk beyond redemption, and urged on 
by the beating of the drums would strive to outdo one another in 
tournaments of satirical song. 

There were also beliefs and superstitions to be tabulated: that a stye 
should be cured, for instance, by laying a gold ring on the eye; that all 
ailments were divided into two incompatible groups comida quente and 
comidajria, hot food and cold food. And other maleficent combinations: 
fish and meat, mango with any alcoholic drink, bananas and milk. 

But what was still more interesting was to get out into the hinter 
land and examine, not the last traces of Mediterranean tradition, but 
die strange devices of a society as yet hardly in being. The subject was 
tbe same past and present were still in question but whereas in 
classical anthropology the past serves to explain the present I was faced 
with a situation in which the present harked back to certain very early 
stages in the evolution of Europe. As in Merovingian times in France, 
the beginnings of urban and coTntntmal organisations w^-re talcing shape 
against a background of latifundia. 

Hie agglomerations then coming into being were not like the towns 
of today. There was none^of that ever-more-complete uniformity in 
which administrative distinctions alone differentiate one city from 
another and all trace of origins has been worn away. No: these towns 
could be examined as a botanist examines his plants. And by the name, 
die look, or the structure of each town one could trace their affiliations 
with one or other branch of that urban kingdom which Man has added 
to Nature. 

During the last hundred and fifty years the pioneering fringe* has 
moved slowly from east to west and from south to north. Around 1836 
it was only in die Norte, that is to say the region between Rio and Sao 
Paulo, that the colonists had any firm hold, but there was great progress 
in the central area of the State. Twenty years later the colonists were 

Town and Country 115 

eating into the norths-east, on the Mogiana and the Paulista; in 1886 
inroads were being made into the Araraquara, the Alta Sorocabana, and 
the Noroeste, Even in 1935, in those two latter zones, the increase in 
population ran parallel with the increase in the production of coffee, 
whereas, in the older territories of the Norte, it took more thary fifty 
years for the decline of the one to be reflected in the collapse of the 
other. As early as 1854, that is to say, the exhausted plantations began 
to fall into disuse, but it was not until 1920 that any sharp fall in 
population was noted. 

The use and disuse of these territories corresponded to a historical 
evolution whose visible marks came and went in much the same way. 
Only in the two big cities on the coast Rio and Sao Paulo was 
expansion so massive as to seem irreversible. Sao Paulo had two hundred 
and forty thousand inhabitants in 1900, five hundred and eighty 
thousand in 1920, a million or more in 1928, and more Aap double 
that number today. But in the interior towns of a sort would COIBC 
into being, only to find the surrounding countryside suddenly deserted. 
The population moved from one region to another, did not increase in 
numbers, and changed constantly in social type, with the result that 
fossil-towns could be observed side by side with towns in embryo; and 
in a very short space of time the anthropologist could scrutinize 
transformations as striking as those revealed to the palaeontologist who 
studied the history of anatomical organization over a period of 
millions of years. 

Once away from the coast it was essential to remember that in the 
previous hundred years Brazil had changed much more $wn it had 

In Imperial times the human population, though small in numbers, 
was relatively well laid out. The towns on or near the coast were tiny 
by today s standards, but those in die interior had a vitality now lost to 
them. We too often forget that paradox of history by which it is the 
poorest who stand to profit by any general insufficiency of com 
munications. When riding is the only means of transport, a journey 
measured in months, rather than in weeks or days, is somehow less 
distasteful and a mule-track less forbidding. The Brazilian hinterland 
had an existence which, though slow, was unbroken; the river-boats 
worked to a fixed schedule, even if it took months to complete one s 
journey, stage by tiny stage; and tracks since completely forgotten, like 
that from Cuiaba to Goyaz, were in full use in the 1830$, with caravans 
of up to two hundred mules to be met with, en route. 

Ii6 A Land and its People 

Central Brazil was more or less completely abandoned at the begin 
ning of the twentieth century not because it was undeveloped, but 
because a price had had to be paid for the modernization of life in the 
coastal areas and the consequent movement of the population in that 
direction. In the interior, on the other hand, it was difficult to make real 
headway; the wise thing would have been to accept and allow for a 
dower rhythm of development, but instead of this the whole area went 
steadily to pot Steam navigation, by accelerating the whole rhythm of 
sea travel, has killed off many places which were once famous ports of 
call; the aeroplane may well do the same. Mechanical progress pays 
many dividends, and not the least of them may be the measure of 
solitude and oblivion which it has given us in return for that intimacy 
with the world which we may no longer enjoy. 

The interior of the State of Sao Paulo and its neighbours illustrated 
these transformations on a smaller scale. There was no longer any 
trace, admittedly, of those fortified towns which had once guaranteed 
the ownership of a province. Many towns on the coast, or on a river- 
bank, owe their origins to this practice: Rio de Janeiro, Victoria, 
Floriaiiopolis on its island, Balm and Fortaleza on die cape, Manaus, 
Ofetdos on the banks of the Amazon, or Villa Bella de Mato Grosso, 
wliase rains near the Goapoce are invaded from time to time by the 
NamMkwara Indians; this was once the renowned garrison-city of a 
atpti3& do mate (bust-captain) on the Bolivian frontier on the line, 
that is to say, by which Pope Alexander VI had partitioned the still- 
oiidiscovered New World, in 1493, between the rival kingdoms of 
Spain and Portugal 

To the north and east were to be found a few deserted mining- 
towns, now in the last stages of decay, where flamboyant baroque 
churches of the eighteenth century contrasted with the desolation 
aromnl them. Once they hummed with activity: and in their fantastic 
architecture they seem to have striven to preserve some particle of that 
wealth which was to be their undoing. For tike mines brought devas 
tation to die country around them- to tie forests, above all, whose 
timber kept the foundries goiHg-nand the inining-towns died out, like 
so many fires, as soon as they had consumed their own substance. 

The State of Sao Paolo calls to mind other incidents in history: the 
straggle, for instance, which from the sixteenth century onwards was 
to rage between the planters and the Jesmts as to what form of social 
organization should be followed. The Jesuits would have liked to take 
the Indians in hand and get them organized in some form of coinmimal 

FIG. 2. A rustic calvary in the interior of tlie State of Sio Paulo decorated 
with various objects representing the instalments of the Passion 

1 18 A Land and its People 

life. In certain remote regions these original villages can still be recog 
nized tinder the name of aUeia or missas and, more easily still, by their 
ample and functional ground-plan: in the middle, overlooking a grass- 
grown square of beaten earth, stands the church. Around it are roads 
intersecting at right angles, bordered with the single-storeyed houses 
that replaced the original native huts. The planters, fazendeiros, were 
very jealous of the temporal power exerted by some of the missions: 
these missions kept the planters* exactions in check and cut off their 
supplies of cheap manpower. This explains that strange trait in 
Brazilian demography by which village life has survived in the poorest 
regions as an inheritance from die aldeia, whereas in those areas where 
there was keener competition for the land the natives had no choice but 
to group themselves around the house of their master. Their shacks, 
uniform in design, were of straw or of mud, and their employer could 
always keep an eye upon them. Even today, when the railway runs 
through areas where there are no centres of population, stations have 
had to be built quite arbitrarily, at fixed intervals, with names given in 
alphabetical order: Buarquina, Felicidade, Limao, Marilia (in 1935 the 
Paulista company had just got to the letter P). And so it is that for 
hundreds of miles on end the train stops only at halts that serve a 
fazendk where the whole population gathers: Chave Bananal, Chave 
Concei$ao, Chave Elisa. . . . 

But there were also cases in which the opposite occurred and the 
planters decided, from pious motives, to make over a piece of land to 
the Church. There then came into being zpatrimonio, or agglomeration 
placed under the patronage of one of the saints. Other patrimonios had 
a non-religious origin: a landowner may for instance have decided to 
make himself a povoador, or *populator 5 , or even a plantador de cidade: 
the planter, that is to say, of a town. In such cases he gave the town his 
own name: Paulopolis, or Orlandia; or for political reasons he put it 
under the protection of some high personage Presidente-Prudente, 

Cornelio-Ptocopio, Epitacio-Pessoa Brief as was the cycle of their 

life, the agglomerations found time to change their names several 
times over, and much can be learnt from these names. Initially the name 
served merely to identify the town and might be, indeed, a popular 
nickname: Batatas , or potatoes, for a small patch of cultivated ground 
in the bush; or Feijao-Cra*, raw beans, for a place where no fuel was 
on hand to heat the saucepan. Or, if the place was simply a very long 
way ofl and provisions normally ran short, it might be called * Arroz- 
sem-SaT or rice-without-salt. And then one day a Colonel such was 

Town and Country up 

the generic tide given to all big landowners or political agents with a 
concession of several thousand acres would aim to become a person of 
influence. He d take on labour in a big way, begin to build, and create 
a town where once there was only a floating population. Raw beans 
would turn into Leopoldina or Ferdinandopolis. Later the city which 
his ambition, or his capric^ had brought into being would peter out 
and disappear; nothing would be left but the name, a hut or two, and 
the remnants of a population eaten away by malaria and ankylosto- 
miasis. Or else the city would flourish: its new-found civic conscious 
ness will resent the fact that it was once the instrument, if not the 
plaything, of a single man. A population newly arrived from Italy, 
Germany, and half a dozen other sources will want to have roots of its 
own; it will then hunt through the dictionary for an indigenous name, 
generally of Tupi derivation, which will suggest that it has come to live 
in a city of pre-Colombian origins: Tanabi, or Votuparanga, or 
Tupao, or Aymore. . . . 

The staging-points along the river had been killed off by the railway, 
but there were still to be seen, here and there, traces illustrative of a 
cycle broken in mid-course: sheds and a rude lodging at die water s 
edge, to allow the boatmen to get a night s rest without being ambushed 
by the Indians; then the portos de lenha, every twenty miles or so, 
where the slender-funnelled paddle-steamers could put in for wood; 
the water-terminus at either end of the navigable stretch; and the 
transfer-points wherever rapids or a waterfall made it impossible to 
proceed direct. 

In 1935 there were two sorts of town which, though stricdy 
traditional in appearance, were still full of life. These were the pauses, 
or crossroad villages, and the boccas do sertao, or mouths of the bush , 
which stood at the head of a track lifting into the interior. Already the 
lorry was taking the pkce of the mule-train and the ox-cart; taking the 
same tracks, however, making much die same speed as it crawled in 
first or second gear for hundreds of miles on end, stopping at the same 
halts, where the drivers in their oil-stained overalls would drink side 
by side with the leather-girt tropeiros. 

The tracks were not all that one would have liked them to be. 
Mosdy they were the old caravan routes that had served to bring 
coffee, sugar, and cane-alcohol in one direction and salt, flour, and 
dried foods in the other. These would be interrupted from time to time, 
in the middle of the bush, by a registro: a wooden barrier surrounded by 
a hut or two. Here a tatterdemalion peasant, the representative of some 

FIG. 3. Ox-cart axle 

problematical authority, would demand a toll. This led to the establish 
ment of other, more clandestine networks: the estradas francanas, which 
aimed to avoid paying those tolls; there were also the estradas 
mukdas, mule-tracks, and the estradas boiadas, or ox-tracks. On these 
latter could be heard, for two or three hours at a time, the coming and 
going of the sound that nearly drove a new arrival demented: the 
squeaking axle of an ox-cart* These were built to a model imported 
from dbe Mediterranean in the sixteenth century. Unchanged in essence 
since proto-lHsforic times, it brought the heavy body into direct contact 
with dbe axle, with the result that it was as difficult for the oxen to get 
the cart ialo motion at all as for them to haul the entire load. 

Animals, carts, and lorries had forced their way along these tracks, 
more or less in the same direction, according to the prevailing cdrcum- 
stances of weather and vegetation. Such levelling as had taken place 
was largely accidental, and the traveller had to do as best he could with 
die ravines and the steep slopes stripped of all living matter that would 
suddenly present themselves. Sometimes the track would widen until 
it was lie a boulevard, a hundred yards across, in the very middle of 
the bosh; sometimes it would divide itself into a score of ^distinguish 
able paths, leading in every direction at once, with nothing to show 
which was the true fil fAriane that would lead one but of the labyrinth. 
At such times one could easily take the wrong one, toil for many hours 
over a stretch of some twenty dangerous miles, only to find oneself 
bogged down, at the end, in sand or marshlands. In the rainy season the 
track would turn into a canal of greasy mud and could not be used at 
all; and later, when the first lorry managed to get through, it would 
leave deep ruts that dried quickly and hardened within three days to 


Toum and Country 121 

the consistency of cement. The vehicles that came later had to fit into 
these as best they could, and many there were who had to travel for 
hundreds of miles with a dangerous list* or found themselves repeatedly 
marooned on crests that had to be cut away with a spade, 

I well remember a trip on which Jean Maugiie, Ren6 Courtin, and 
myself had setoff with the object of travelling as far as Q>urtin*sbran<i- 
new Ford would take us. We got as far as the banks of the Araguaya, 
about a thousand miles from Sao Paulo, and there visited a family of 
Karaja Indians. On the way back the front suspension broke and we 
went for some sixty miles with the engine resting directly on the front 
axle and for another four hundred with the engine propped up on an 
iron bar that had been run up for us by a village bkcksmith. I remember 
especially the anxious hours we spent after nightfall in the unpopulated 
hinterland of the States of Sao Paulo and Goyaz never knowing how 
soon the furrows that we had chosen from among a dozen others would 
betray us. Suddenly the pouso came into view beneath the halfhearted 
stars; the sound of the generator that kept its electric lamps alight had 
probably been audible for hours, but we had not distinguished it from 
the other night-noises of the bush. The inn offered us a choice of 
hammocks or iron bedsteads, and at dawn we were off along the main 
street of the little town, with its houses and its all-purpose shops, and 
its main square where regatSes and mascates held sway: hawkers, 
itinerant doctors, dentists, and even lawyers. 

On market-days the scene was one of great animation. Peasants by 
the hundred had left their lonely hutments and travelled for days on 
end with their entire families, for the sake of the annual transaction by 
which they sold a calf, a mule, a tapir s or a puma s skin, or a few sacks 
of rice, maize, or cofiee and received in exchange a length of cotton, 
some salt, some petroleum for their lamp, and some ammtmition. 

In the background is the plateau: brushwood, with a tree or two 
here and there. It had lost most of its vegetation half a century earlier, 
and the beginnings of erosion could be seen as if someone had made 
a first few tentative strokes with an adze, Terrace formations were 
marked off by a drop of a few yards in the level of the ground: later 
these would turn into ravines. There was a broad but shallow stretch 
of water not so much a river-bed as a piece of spasmodic flooding 
and not far from this two or three avenues ran parallel along the 
borders of a luxuriant property: a mui-walled rancho, roofed with 
tiles, and dazzlingly white where the sun shone on its coating of chalk. 
The shutters were framed in chestnut-brown and there were purple 

122 A Land and its People 

shadows on the ground. As soon as the first dwelling-houses appeared 
they were like big covered markets, with unglazed window-spaces, 
wide open for the most part, in the walls meadows of rough grass 
sprang up beside them, and this grass was kept down to its very roots 
by the cattle. The organizers of the fair had laid in special stores of 
fodder: hay made from sugar-cane or pressed young palm-leaves. The 
visitors camped out between the big square heaps of fodder, and the 
heavy wheels of their carts were studded on the outside with huge nails. 
Walls freshly made of wicker and a roof of rawhide roped into place 
had protected the travellers on their journey and a screen of palm- 
leaves or a tent-like strip of white cotton had hung out over the rear 
of the cart. Rice, black beans, and dried meat were cooked in the open, 
and naked children ran in and out between the feet of the oxen as they 
chewed their sugar-canes; the soft stalks hanging down, meanwhile, 
like fountains of greenery. 

A day or two later, not a soul remained. The company had 
vanished once again into the bush. Tie pouso drowsed in the sun, 
excitements over for the rest of the year; save only the weekly opening 
of the vi lias da Domingo, die Sunday rendezvous where horsemen would 
find, at the crossroads, a drink-shop and a handful of huts. 

13 The Pioneer Zone 

OCENES of this sort can be repeated ad infinitum in 
the interior of Brazil once you get away from the coast and head north 
or west. The bush extends in those directions as far as die marshes of 
Paraguay or the forest-bordered tributaries of the Amazon. 

If you travel southwards, on the other hand, towards the State of 
Parana, other landscapes and other modes of life come into view; the 
ground stands higher, you draw farther and farther away from the 
tropics, and the subsoil becomes volcanic. Tie visitor finds, side by 
side, the remains of tribal society and the most up-to-date varieties of 
colonial practice. It was therefore in die Norte-Parana that I made my 
first expeditions. 

It took hardly more than twenty-four hours to get to that farther 
bank of the river Parana which marked the frontier of the State of Sao 
Paulo. There ky the great damp forest of conifers, vast in size and 
temperate in climate, which had for so long resisted the planters* efforts 
to penetrate it Till 1930 or thereabouts it was more or less virgin 
territory, known only to the bands of Indians who wandered freely 
widiin it and to a few isolated pioneers^poor peasants, for the most 
part who worked on their tiny plantations of maize. 

At the time of my arrival in Brazil the region was beginning to be 
opened up. A British company had secured from die government a 
concession of nearly four million acres in return for an undertaking to 
build roads and a railway. Hie British intended to re-sell the land, plot 
by plot, to emigrants, mosdy from central and eastern Europe, and to 
keep the railway for themselves. By 1935 the experiment was well 
under way: the railway was biting deeper and deeper into the forest 
diirty-odd miles at the beginning of 1930, eighty and more by the 
end of that year, one hundred and thirty in 1932, one hundred and 
seventy-five in 1936. . , . Every ten miles or so a station would be 


124 A Land and its People 

built, and a space about a kilometre square would be cleared all round 
it: here a town was to come into being. These towns were built up 
slowly but surely: at the head of the line stood Londrina, the senior, 
with already three thousand inhabitants. Next came Nova Dantzig 
with ninety, Rolandia with sixty, and so on; the newest of all was 
Arapongas, which in 1935 could boast only one house and one in 
habitant: a Frenchman, already in middle life, who went prospecting 
in the desert in military leggings dating from the war of 1914-18 and 
a yachting-cap. Fifteen years later the population of Arapongas was 
ten thousand. 

Riding or motoring along the new roads (like those of ancient Gaul, 
these kept to the high ground) there was no way of knowing that the 
country was alive. The lots ran down from the road to the river at the 
bottom of the valley, and it was at the farther end, by the water, that 
things had begun to move. The clearance work began below and 
crept gradually up the slope, so that the road, the symbol of civilization, 
was still deep in the forest which, for months or even years to come, 
would still crown the top of the slopes. Down below, on the other 
hand, the first harvests always on a prodigious scale in this terra roxa > 
this untouched violet earth pushed their way between the great 
fallen trees. Hie winter rains would soon turn these remains into a 
fertile humus, which would be swept and driven along the slopes, in 
company with that other humus that had for so long nourished the 
iM>WKestroyed forest. It would not take long, we thought perhaps 
ten, twenty, thirty years for this land of Canaan to turn into an arid 
and devastated waste. 

For the moment the emigrants had merely the problems of super 
abundance to cope with. The Pomeranian and Ukrainian settlers had 
not even had time to build themselves houses they still lodged with 
their animals in wooden hutments besidg the stream so urgent 
was the need to curb the ardour of this magnificent soil and break 
it in like a wild stallion. Had this not been done their maize and cotton 
would have run amok in over-luxuriant vegetation instead of coining 
to orderly fruition. We saw German fanners weep for joy as they 
showed us how a whole grove of leinonr-trees had sprung from a 
cutting or two. For what astounded the men from the north was not 
only the fertility: it was the strangeness of these crops that they had 
known of only through fairy-tales. As tike area is on the frontier between 
the tropical and the temperate zones* a difference of even a few feet in 
altitude could bring about a marked difference in climate. European 

The Pioneer Zone 125 

and South American specialities could be grown side by side, and the 
settlers delighted in exploiting this fact setting wheat next to cane- 
sugar and coffee next to flax. . . . 

The new cities were entirely nordic in character; like those who, a 
century earlier, had grouped themselves in the south of the State, 
around Curitiba, the new arrivals were Germans, Poles, Russians, and, 
to a lesser extent, Italians. Houses built of planks, or from sqmredr-off 
tree-trunks, called to mind central and eastern Europe. Long carts, 
each with four spoked wheels and horses between the shafts, replaced 
the Iberian ox-carts. There were unexpected survivals from the past, of 
course, but what I found more interesting was the rapidity with which 
the future was taking shape. Faceless areas would seem to acquire an 
urban structure overnight; and just as an embryo forms itself into cells, 
each of which becomes part of a particular group and has a function 
all its own, so did each of the new towns acqirire a character peculiar 
to itself. Londrina was already well organized, with a main street, a 
business centre, an artisans quarter, and a residential section. But what 
mysterious formative powers were at work in the patch of dead ground 
which was all that Rolandia, and still more Arapongas, as yet amounted 
to? What authority was parking out one set of citizens here, and 
another there, and giving each sector of the new town an inescapable 
function? Each town was initially a rectangular clearing in the forest, 
with every street at right angles to every other street: they were 
depersonalized tracings, geometrical outlines nothing more. Yet some 
were in the centre, and some on the periphery; some parallel to tie road 
or the railway, some at right angles to them. Some, therefore, Vent 
with* the stream of traffic, while the others cut across it. Business and 
commerce tended to string themselves out along tie first group; 
private houses and certain public services either chose the second group 
or were forced into it. The two antitheses (central/peripheral, parallel/ 
perpendicular) immediately established four different modes of urban 
life; and over the future inhabitants of the city there already hung a 
fatality success and failure, discouragement and initial advantage 
derived automatically from the accidents of the grid. And more: there 
would be two main types of inhabitant those who craved human 
company and would gravitate naturally to the sectors which were more 
heavily urbanized, and those who preferred isolation and liberty. Thus 
would come into being a further contrapuntal element. 

And then there was that strange element in the evolution of so many 
towns: the drive to the west which so often leaves the eastern part of 

126 A Land and its People 

the town in poverty and dereliction. It may be merely the expression 
of that cosmic rhythm which has possessed mankind from the earliest 
times and springs from the unconscious realization that to move with 
the sun is positive, and to move against it negative; the one stands for 
order, the other for disorder. It s a long time since we ceased to worship 
the sun; and with our Euclidean turn of mind we jib at the notion of 
space as qualitative. But it is independently of ourselves that the great 
phenomena of astronomy or meteorology have their effect an effect 
as discreet as it is ineluctable in every part of the globe. We all 
associate the direction east-to-west with achievement, just as every 
inhabitant of the temperate zone of the southern hemisphere associates 
the north with darkness and cold and the south with warmth and light. 
None of all this comes out, of course, in our considered behaviour. But 
urban life offers a strange contrast. It represents civilization at its most 
complex and in its highest state of refinement; but by the sheer human 
concentration which it represents within a limited space, it precipitates 
and sets in motion a number of unconscious attitudes. Infinitesirnal as 
these are in themselves, they can produce a considerable effect when a 
large number of people are reacting to them at the same time and in the 
same manner* Thus it is that every town is affected by the westward 
drive, with wealth gravitating to one side and poverty to the other. 
What is at first sight unintelligible becomes dear if we realize that every 
town has the privilege (though some would see in it rather a form of 
servitude) of bringing to our notice, as if under a microscope, the 
incessant and insect-like activity of our ancestral and stiU-far-from- 
extinct superstitions* 

And can they really be called superstitions? I see these predilections 
as a fonn of wisdom which primitive peoples put spontaneously into 
practice; the madness lies rather in our modern wish to go against them. 
These primitive peoples attained quickly and easily to a peace of mind 
which we strive for at the cost of innumerable rebuffs and irritations. 
We should do better to accept the true conditions of our human 
experience and realize that it is not within our power to emancipate 
ourselves completely from either its structure or its natural rhythms. 
Space has values peculiar to itself, just as sounds and scents have their 
colours and feelings their weight. The search for correspondences of 
this sort is not a poets game or a department of mystification, as people 
have dared to say of Rimbaud s sonnet des voyettes: that sonnet is now 
indispensable to the student of language who knows the basis, not of the 
colour of phenomena, for this varies with each individual, but of the 

The Pioneer Zone 127 

relation which unites one phenomenon to another and comprises a 
limited gamut of possibilities. Tliese correspondeiices ofier the scholar 
an entirely new terrain, and one which may still have rich yields to 
ofier. If fish can make an aesthetic distinction between smells in terms 
of light and dark, and bees classify the strength of light in ternis of 
weight darkness is heavy, to them, and bright light ligjht Jest so 
should the work of the painter, the poet, and the composer and the 
myths and symbols of primitive Man seem to us: if not as a superior 
form of knowledge, at any rate as the most fundamental form of 
knowledge, and the only one that we all have in common; knowledge 
in tie scientific sense is merely the sharpened edge of this other 
knowledge. More penetrating it may be, because its edge has been 
sharpened on the hard stone of feet, but this penetration has been 
acquired at the price of a great loss of substance; and it is only efficacious 
in so far as it can penetrate far enough for the whole bulk of the 
instrument to follow the sharpened point. 

The sociologist has his part to play in the elaboration of this world 
wide, concrete humanism. For the great manifestations of Society have 
this in common with the work of art: that they originate at the level 
of unconscious existence because they are coEective, in the first case, 
and although they are individual, in the second; but the difference is not 
of real importance is, indeed, no more than apparent because the first 
is produced iy, and the seconder, the public; and the public supplies 
them both with their common denominator and determines the 
conditions in which they shall be created. 

Cities have often been likened to symphonies and poems, and the 
comparison seems to me a perfectly natural one: they are, in feet, 
objects of the same kind. The city may even be rated higher, since it 
stands at the point where Nature and artifice meet. A city is a congre 
gation of animals whose biological history is enclosed within its 
boundaries; and yet every conscious and rational act on the part of 
these creatures helps to shape the city s eventual character. By its form, 
as by the manner of its birth, the city has elements at once of biological 
procreation, organic evolution, and aesthetic creation. It is both natural 
object and a thing to be cultivated; individual and group; something 
lived and something dreamed; it is the human invention, par excellence. 

In the synthetic towns of southern Brazil one could detect in the 
lay-out of the houses, the specialized use to which each street was put, 
and the beginnings of individual style in each quarter of the town, the 
workings of a clandestine and enormously obstinate will. And th^ 

128 A Land and its People 

seemed all the more significant in that it ran contrary to (though it also 
prolonged) the fancies which had brought the towns into being. 
Londrina, Nova Dantzig, Rolandia, and Arapongas had been born of 
the decisions of a group of engineers and financiers, but already they 
were reverting to the authentic diversity of urban life, just as Curitiba 
had reverted a century ago and Goiania may be reverting today. 

Curitiba, the capital of the State of Parana, appeared on the map on 
the day the government decided that a town should be built: the 
territory which had been bought from its former owner was cut up 
into lots and sold at a price cheap enough to attract an immediate influx 
of population. The same system was later used to endow the State of 
Minas with its capital, Bello Horizonte. With Goiania a greater risk 
was taken, because the original plan was to build up from nothing at all 
the future federal capital of Brazil. 

About a third of the way, as the crow flies, from the south coast to 
the line of the Amazon there are enormous plateaux which we have 
left untouched for the last two hundred years. In the days when the 
caravans were in constant use and there were boats on the river they 
could be crossed in a few weeks, if you were making your way north 
wards from the mines; and once on the banks of the Araguaya you 
could take a boat to Belem. Hie only remaining witness to all this, 
when I arrived, was the little town of Goyaz, capital of the State which 
had taken its name, which eked out a sleepy existence some seven 
hundred miles from the coast, from which it was virtually cut off. It 
stood among a mass of greenery and was dominated by an erratic 
skyline of palm-topped hills. Streets of low houses ran down the 
hillsides greeti with gardens. Horses passed to and fro in front of the 
ornamented faades of churches that were half barn, half bell-towered 
mansion. The colonnades, the use of stucco, the sumptuous porticos 
freshly painted in white or pink or ochre or blue all reminded me of 
Spanish country-town baroque. On either side of the river were moss- 
grown quays that had caved in* here and there, under the weight of the 
lianas, tie banana-trees, and palm-trees that had run wild among the 
unoccupied properties; but this superabundant vegetation did not so 
much underline the decrepitude of those properties as add a note of 
silence and dignity to their dilapidated facades. 

Whether it was a matter for outrage or for rejoicing Tm not quite 
sure but the administration had decided to forget about Goyaz, and 
its countryside, and its pebble-jpaved streets, and its unfashionable 
graces. It was all too old and too small. Ttiey needed a dean date before 

The Pioneer Zone. 129 

they could get on with the enormous undertaking that they had in 
mind. This was to be found sixty-odd miles to the east, on a plateau 
where nothing grew hut rough grass and thorny shrubs, as if some 
plague had swept across it and destroyed all living creatures and all 
other vegetation. No railway led to it, and there were no roads: cart- 
tracks, merely. This was the region, sixty miles square, which had been 
marked out on the map as the site of the federal district in which the 
capital of the future was to be built. Its architects, untempted by any 
natural advantages, could proceed as if on a drawing-board. The town- 
plan was marked out on the site; the outer boundaries were fixed and, 
within them, each zone was clearly prescribed: residential, adminr- 
istrative, commercial, industrial. Pleasure, likewise, had its allotted 
space, for there was no denying its importance in a pioneer city* When 
the town of Marilia was built in the 19205 in much the same way some 
fifteen per cent of the six hundred houses were brothels. Most of their 
inmates were Francesinhas of the sort which, in the nineteenth century, 
formed with the more orthodox sisters of mercy the twin spearheads 
of French civilization abroad: so much so, indeed, that even in 1939 
the French Foreign Office devoted a substantial part of its clandestine 
credits to their furtherance. It would be only fair to add that the 
foundation of the University of Rio Grande do Sul, in Brazil s most 
southerly State, and the predominance of French studies there, were due 
to the passion for French literature and French liberty which a future 
dictator learned, in his Paris student days, from a French lady of easy 

Suddenly every newspaper was full of the news. The city of 
Goiania was to be founded: and along with the town-plan, which 
could not have been more complete if Goiania had been already a 
hundred years old, there was a list of the advantages to be enjoyed by 
its inhabitants: modern roads, a railway, running water, up-to-date 
drains, and the cinema.1 even seem to remember that at one time land 
was offered at a premium to anyone who would pay the legal fees: 
lawyers and speculators were the earliest citizens of Goiania. 

I visited Goiania in 1937. Among endless fladands half dead 
ground, half battlefield with telegraph poles and surveyors* stakes all 
over the place, a hundred or so brand-new houses could be seen at the 
four corners of the horizon. The biggest of these was the hotel, a square 
box of cement, with the look of an air-terminus or a miniature fort; 
one might have called it the bastion of civilization* in a literal, 
and, therefore, a strangely ironical sense. For nothing could be more 

130 A Land and its People 

barbarous, more essentially inhuman, than this way of grabbing at the 
desert. This graceless erection was the contrary of Goyaz. It had no 
history. It had neither lived long enough nor acquired any of the 
associations which might have concealed its emptiness or softened its 
awkward outlines. One felt as one feels in a station or a hospital: always 
in transit. Only the fear of some catastrophe could have justified the 
erection of this square white fortress. And indeed that catastrophe had 
occurred: silence and stillness served only to heighten its menaces. 
Cadmus the civilizer had sown the dragon s teeth. The earth had been 
torn up and burnt away by the dragon s breath: Man would be the 
next crop. 


The Caduveo 

14 Parana 

camp in Parana! Or rather doa t! 
Keep your greasy papers, your empty beer-bottles, and your discarded 
tins for Europe s last-remaining sites. There is the place for your tents. 
But, once beyond the pioneer zone, and until the day, now all too 
imminent, when they will be ruined once and for alWfeave the 
torrents to foam undisturbed down terraces cut into hillsides violet 
with basalt* Keep your hands off the volcanic mosses, so sharp and cool 
to the touch; tread no farther when you come to the first of Ae 
uninhabited prairies, and to the great steamy codifar-forest, where the 
trees that rise above tie entangled bracken and liana and thrust up into 
the sky are tlte exact opposite, in shape, of our European conifers: not 
cone-shaped, that is to say, and tapering towards the summit, but <m 
the contrary so designed that their branches stand out in hexagonal 
platforms, growing always wider and wider, until at the very top they 
spread out like an immense umbrella, as if to prove Jkudelake s 
contention that it is by its irregularity that the vegetable contests with 
the mineral kingdom. 

It was a landscape intact and unchanged for uaillions of years past: 
carboniferous majesty personified. Higt4ying, and fk enough from 
the tropics to have escaped the confusion of the Amazonian, basin, it 
had preserved a sokmn dignity and sense ofiinbl<^ifthed order which 
seemed explicable only by the workings of a race wiser and more 
powerful than our own. It is apparently to the disappearance of tins 
race that we owe the opportunity of exploring these sublime parklands, 
now given over to alienee and abandonment 

My first contacts with a primitive people were made on this high 
ground, some three thousand feet above sea-level, in the area which 
stands above both banks of the Rio Tibagy. I was travelling with one 



of the district commissioners of the Indians* Protection Service on one 
of his tours of inspection. 

At the time when we Europeans discovered it the whole of southern 
Brazil was inhabited by tribes rekted to one another both in language 
and in culture. We grouped them under the collective name of Ge. 
They would seem to have been pushed back, not many centuries before, 
by Tupi-speaking invaders who were already in occupation of the 
entire coastal strip; the struggle against them was still going on. The 
Ge of southern Brazil had fallen backinto regions difficult of access; and, 
whereas the coastal Tupi had quickly been mopped up by the colonists, 
the Ge had survived for several centuries. Certain small bands had even 
survived into the twentieth century in the forests of the southern States 
of Parana and Santa Catarina. One or two may even have kept going 
until 1935, for they had learnt from the ferocious persecutions of the 
previous hundred years to keep themselves entirely hidden from the 
outer world. But for the most part they had been rounded up towards 
the year 1914, and the Brazilian government had corralled them with 
the object of integrating them into modern life . In the village, for 
instance, of Sao Jeronymo, which was my own particular base, there 
had been a locksmith s shop, a chemist s, a school, and a saw-mill. 
Axes, knives, and tyaiU were sent up at regular intervals, and clothes 
and blankets were made available to all. Twenty years later this experi 
ment had been abandoned. The Protection Service left the Indians to 
their own devices, and in so doing revealed to what an extent it had 
itself been deserted by the authorities (it has since regained a little 
ground); and the Service was compelled, quite involuntarily, to try 
another method that of inciting the natives to take things into their 
hands, once again, and follow their own bent. 

All that remained to the natives of their brief experience of 
dvilizatioEL were their Brazilian clothes and the use of the axe, the knife, 
and the needle and thread. In other respects the failure was complete. 
Houses had been built for them, and they preferred to live in the open. 
Efforts had been made to install them in villages, and they were still 
nomads. They had broken up their beds for firewood and gone back 
to sleeping on the ground. lite herds of cows sent by the government 
had been left to roam off as they pleased, since neither their milk nor 
their meat was acceptable to the Indians. The mechanical pestle made of 
wood (it was worked by leverage) stood rotting and seemed never to 
have been used: the meal was still ground by hand. 

It was a great disappointment to me to find that the Tibagy Indians 

Parana 135 

were neither true Indians* nor, for that matter, *txoe savages*. But, in 
so far as they disabused me of the ingenious and poetical notion of 
what is in store for us that is common to all novices in anthropology, 
those Indians taught me a lesson in prudence and objectivity. Not only 
were they less intact than I had hoped: they also had secrets that I 
could not have guessed on first acquaintance. Tliey were a perfect 
example of that sociological predicament which is becoming ever more 
widespread in the second half of the twentieth century: they were 
former savages , that is to say, on whom civilization had been abruptly 
forced; and, as soon as they were no longer *a danger to Society*, 
civilization took no further interest in them. Their culture was made up 
for the most part of ancient traditions (such as the practice, still common 
among them, of filing down and inlaying their teeth) which had li^M 
out against the influence of the whites. But it also included certain 
borrowings from the civilization of our own day, and the combination, 
though not rich in the accepted dements of the picturesque, was 
nevertheless an original field of study, and one quite as instructive as 
that offered by the uncontaminated natives with whom I was to have 
to do later. 

Now that these Indians were thrown back upon their own resources, 
there could be noted a strange reversal of the apparent equilibrium 
between modern* and primitive* cultures. Old ways of life and 
traditional techniques reappeared; the past* to which they belonged 
was, after all, neither dead nor distant. How else could one account for 
the admirably polished stone pestles which stood side by side, in the 
Tristans* houses, with the enamelled metal plates, the cheap mass- 
produced spoons, and in more than one instance die skeletal 
remains of a sewing-machine? Perhaps the pestles had been acquired by 
barter, in the depths of the forests, with those unsubdued and ferocious 
populations against whom, in certain parts of the Parana, the small- 
holders had never made any headway? To know for certain one would 
have to retrace, stage by stage, the odyssey of the elderly Indian faravo 
who was spending his years of retirement on government territory. 

These mysterious and haunting relics related to the times when the 
Indian had neither house, nor clothes, nor metal utensils of any sort. 
And the ancient techniques survived, likewise, in the half-conscious 
memories of these people. They knew of matches, for instance; but as 
these ware expensive and hard to come by the Indians preferred to make 
fire by the rotation or rubbing together of two soft pieces of palmito 
wood. The government had distributed rifles and pistols, at one time, 

The Caduveo 

but these were mostly to be found hanging in the long-abandoned 
homes; the Indians went hunting with bows and arrows fashioned with 
the traditional ^1k of a people that had never seen firearms. And so 
the old ways of life would reassert themselves after the brief period of 
official obsolescence, just as slowly and as surely as the Indians would 
file along the tiny forest paths, while in the deserted villages roof after 
roof would crumble in dust. 

For a fortnight on end we rode forward on horseback through the 
forest. Often the distances were so vast, and the tracks so sketchy, that 
it was far into the night before we arrived at our staging-point. It 
astonished me that our horses should never put a foot wrong in the 
impenetrable darkness: this was made the more impenetrable by the 
ceiling of foliage that closed down, a hundred feet above our heads. 
But they kept up the same jerky motion, hour after hour; sometimes 
the track would lurch abruptly downhill and we would have to reach 
quickly for the tall pommel of our peasant saddles; sometimes a sudden 
coolness from below us and the squelch of water would show that we 
were crossing a stream. And then our mounts would scramble up the 
farther bank with movements so frantic as to suggest that their one 
wish was to be rid of both saddle and rider. Once on flat ground again, 
we had only to remain alert and profit by that strange awareness which 
allows one, as often as not, to duck in time to avoid the low branch 
which one has sensed but not seen. 

And then suddenly an identifiable sound comes to us from some 
where ahead: not die jaguar s roar which we heard for a moment at 
nightfall, but the barking of a dog. Our night s lodging is not far 
distant. A few minutes later our guide swings off the main track and 
we follow him into a litde enclosure where rough tree-trunk barriers 
mark out a catde^pen and the solitary hut is roofed with straw. Our 
white-dad hosts are in hospitable commotion: the husband is often of 
Portuguese origin, his wife Indian. With the aid of a wick soaked in 
keroseaae, we make a rapid inventory: floor of beaten earth, a table, a 
plank bed, a few packing-cases to serve as chairs, and on the baked-day 
hearth a collection of old cam and tins: our hosts batterie de cuisine. We 
hastily sling our hammocks through the interstices of the openwork 
wall of juxtaposed palm-trunks; sometimes we go and sleep outside, 
under the canopy that protects tie garnered maize from the rain. 
Surprising as it may seem, it s ddiciausly comfortable to lie on a heap 
of maize; the long ears, with the leaves still wrapped around them, 
form themselves into a compact mass that adapts itself perfectly to one s 


body and there is something marvellously soothing about their sweet 
grassy smell But at dawn the cold and the damp put an end to sleep; 
a milk-white mist rises from the clearing; we make haste to go mskfe 
the hut, where the gjow from the hearth relieves the perpetual semi- 
darkness. (There are no windows, of course, but the light pmetrates 
the insterstices in the walls,) Our host brews Ae blswie^: of black cofee 
with plenty of sugar at the bottom of it and pipaca (popcorn), mixed 
with pieces of larding bacon. Our horses are broug|it tip and saddled, 
and we are off; a few moments, and the watery forest closes down again 
and the hut is lost and forgotten. 

The Sao Jeronymo reserve covers about a quarter of a million acres 
and is inhabited by about four hundred and fifty Indians, grouped m 
some five or six villages. I was able before leaving to examine the 
statistics and get an idea of the harm done by malaria, tuberculosis, and 
alcoholism. In the previous ten years there had not been more than one 
hundred and seventy births, and infantile mortality alone had accounted 
for one hundred and forty of them. 

We visited the wooden houses which the federal government had 
built. They were grouped in villages of from five to six fires, with 
water nearby; we also saw the more isolated houses which the Indians 
occasionally built for themselves; these consisted of a square palisade of 
palmito-trunks, bound together with liana, and a roof made of leaves 
and hung on to the walls by its four corners. And we also examined 
those branch-hung awnings beneath which whole femilies would often 
live, leaving the adjacent house unoccupied. 

The inhabitants, in such cases, would be assembled round a fire 
that was kept burning night and day. Hie men generally wore lie 
ragged remains of a shirt and an old pair of trousers, and the womm 
either a cotton dress, worn need: the skin, or a blanket rolled 
armpits. The children went naked. AH wore, as did we ourselves while 
travelling, large hats of straw; the making of these was, indeed, their 
only activity and their only way of making money. Both n^m aond 
women bore, at every age, the marks of the Mongolian type: lightly 
built, with broad fiat faces, prominent cheekbones, yellow skin, narrow 
eyes, black straight hair worn either long or short, in the case of the 
women and the body almost or entirely hairless* They live in one 
room. They eat, at no matter what time of the day, the sweet potatoes 
that lie roasting in the ashes* picking them out with long pincers of 
bamboo. They sleep on either a thin layer of bracken or a pallet of 
maiz<>-stra w* Each lies with his feet nearest the fire. The few remaining 

138 The Caduveo 

embers and the screen of tree-trunks roughly thrown together make a 
poor protection, in the middle of the night, against the intense cold 
that comes down at an altitude of over three thousand feet. 

The houses built by the Indians themselves amount to this one same 
room, just as in the houses built by the government only one room is 
ever put to use. All the Indian s worldly goods are to be found there, 
laid out on the ground in a degree of disorder that scandalized our 
guides. It was difficult to distinguish the objects that were Brazilian in 
origin from those made near at hand. Brazilian, in general, were axes, 
knives, enamelled plates and metal receptacles, rags, needle and thread, 
bottles and, on rare occasions, an umbrella. The furniture was of the 
rudest: a few low wooden stools ofguarani origin; baskets of all sizes 
and for every purpose, in which was to be found the technique of 

FlG. 4. "Kaingafrg pottery 

twilled plaiting which is so common in South America; a sieve for 
floor, a wooden mortar, a pestle of wood or stone, a pot or two; and, 
finally, an immense number of receptacles of every sort and size, 
constructed from the abobra, a gourd emptied of its contents and dried. 
It was very difficult indeed for us to get hold of one of these pathetic 
objects: often a preliminary and wholesale distribution of rings, 
necklaces, and glass brooches would have foiled to establish the friendly 
contact without which nothing could be done. Even the offer of 
milreis, in a quantity vastly in excess of the intrinsic value of the coveted 
object, would leave its owner indifferent. He just can t. If he d made 
it himself he d give it gladly. But he got it a long time ago from an 
old woman who alone knew the secret of its manufacture, and if he 
gave it away he could never get another.* The old woman is, of course, 
never at hand. She is: 1 don t know where . . . somewhere in the forest. 

Parana 139 

Besides, what good are our milrcis to an elderly Indian, trembling with 
fever, who lives sixty miles from the nearest white man s shop? One 
would be ashamed to wrest from these people, who already have so 
few possessions, something that, for them, would represent an 
irreparable loss. 

But often it s a very different story. The Indian woman in question 
would be delighted to sell the pot. But unfortunately it s not hers to 
dispose of. Whose is it, then? Silence. Her husband s? No. Her 
brother s? No. Her son s? No. It s her little daughter s, The litde 
daughter invariably turns out to own all the things that we would like 
to buy. Aged perhaps three or four, she s squatting beside the fire, 
entirely absorbed in the litde ring that I dipped on her finger a while 
ago. And there follow endless negotiations with the young lady: 
negotiations in which the parents take no part. A ring and five hundred 
reis do not tempt her, but she is won over by a brooch and four 
hundred reis. 

The Kaingang are not great cultivators. Fishing, hunting, and 
collecting are their main activities. Their fishing equipment is soch a 
wretched imitation of our own that one can hardly believe they ever 
catch anything: a supple branch, a Brazilian hook attached with a litde 
resin to the end of the line, sometimes a piece of ordinary rag in die 
guise of a net. Hunting and collecting dominate their nomadic life in 
the forest, where for weeks on end "whole families disappear from view 
and nobody can find them out in their secret lairs or follow their 
complicated itineraries. Sometimes we come on die litde troop at die 
moment when they happen to cross our padi; instantly they deck back 
into the forest. The men lead the party, with bodotpte in hand a form 
of pellet-bow used in the hunt for birds and over their shcndders the 
quiver, made of basketwork, in which is kept their ammunition: pellets 
of dried day. Next come the women, witih all their worldly goods 
either wrapped in a woven scarf or supported in a basket by a strap of 
bark wound round their foreheads. Children and household objects 
were both carried by this means. A few words might be exchanged, as 
we reined in our horses and they slackened their pace for a moment: 
and then the forest would fall silent again. We knew only that the 
next house, like so many others, would be empty. For how long? 

This nomadic life can go on for weeks or months. Hie hunting 
season, like the season for faxLtjabotteatw, orange, lima sees the entire 
population on die move. Where do they find shelter in the depths of 
the forest? From what secret hiding-places do diey retrieve their bows 

140 The Caduveo 

and arrows? (We ourselves found, at most, a specimen or two that had 
been forgotten in some corner of a deserted house.) And what are the 
traditions, the rites, the beliefs that prompt them to go back to the 

Gardening comes last in the Indians economy. Sometimes a patch 
of cultivated ground can be glimpsed in the forest: between high 
ramparts of trees, a few poor square yards of greenstuff bananas, 
sweet potatoes, manioc, maize. The grain is first dried by the fire, and 
then pounded with the mortar by women working singly or in 
couples. Flour is eaten as it is or made up with fat into afirmcake. To 
this diet black beans are added; and as far as meat is concerned there 
may be either game or the semi-domestic pig. These are invariably 
impaled on a stick and roasted above a fire. 

Nor should I forget the koro, a whitish worm that pullulates in the 
trunks of certain trees when they begin to rot. The Indians now refuse 
to admit that they enjoy eating these creatures: such is the effect of the 
white man s continual teasing. But if you go into the forest you are 
sure to come upon the phantom of a great tree, zpinheiro sixty or eighty 
feet high that has been blown do wn in a storm and torn to pieces by the 
Jwo-xod&. And if you enter an Indian house unannounced you can 
often see^-just for a second, before they have time to whip it away a 
cap in wMch the favourite worms are wriggling by the score. 

AM this makes it difficult actually to watch the feoro-extractors at 
tbeir work. We spent a considerable time plotting and planning how 
best to achieve it One old fever-stricken Indian whom we found, all by 
himself in an abandoned village, seemed just the man to help us; we 
put an axe in his hand and tried to push or prod him into action. But 
to no avail: he feigned not to know what we were after. As a last 
mdtjcemmt we told him that we were ourselves longing to taste koro. 
Eventually we got him to a suitable trunk, and with one blow of the 
axse Ee cot down to where, deep in the hollow of the tree, a network of 
canals lay waiting. In each was a fat white creature, not unlike a silk 
worm* Now it was up to us; and the Indian looked on impassively 
while I cut off the head of the worm. The body oozed a whitish 
substance which I tasted, not without some hesitation. It had the 
smoothness and the consistency of butter and the flavour of coconut- 

15 Pantanal 



LHUS baptized, I was ready for real adventures. AB 
opportunity for these was to present itseJf during the period of 
University vacation. This runs, in Brazil, from November to March, 
and has the disadvantage of also being the rainy season. I planned, in 
spite of this, to make contact with two groups of natives. Tlse one, 
never as yet the object of serious study, had perhaps already very 
largely disappeared: the Caduveo on the Paraguayan frontier. Hie 
other group was better known, but still promised much: the Bororo in 
the central Mato Grosso, In addition thie National Museum in Rio de 
Janeiro suggested that I should go and identify an archaeological site 
which lay on my route. No one, as yet, had had a chance to investigate 
this, although it had long figured in the archives. 

I ve often travelled, since then, between Sao Paulo and the Mato 
Grosso, sometimes by aeroplane, sometimes by lorry, and sometimes 
by train and boat. It was this last means that I used in 1935-6; the site 
in question lay, in fact, near the railway andnol; far from the md of the 
line at Porto Esperan^a, on the left bank of tie Rio Paraguay. 

It was a tedious joomey, with not much to be said about it; die 
Noroeste railway company took you first to Bauru, in the w^M^ of 
the pioneering zone; from there you took the Mato Grosso nigbt- 
train* which ran across the soQ&em part of fie State. A diree days* 
journey, in all, in a train that proceeded slowly , used wood for &!, and 
stopped long and often for fresh loads of logs. The carriages were also 
of wood, and none too well put together; the traveller awoke to find 
his face covered with a film of stiffened day so thoroughly had the 
red fine dust of the sertS made its way into every fold and every pore. 
The restaurant-car had already adopted the gastronomic manners of 
the interior: meat, fresh or dried, as opportunity offered, and rice or 
black beans with famha (poached com) to absorb the juice. (Farinha 


142 The Caduveo 

consists of the pulp of maize or fresh manioc, dehydrated by great heat 
and pounded down into a coarse powder.) Next came the eternal 
Brazilian dessert a slice of quince or guava jelly, with cheese to go 
with it. At every station boys would offer us, for a penny or two, juicy 
yellow-fleshed pineapples; these were delightfully refreshing. 

The State of Mato Grosso begins just before the station of Tres 
Lagoas, where the train crosses the Rio Parana, a river so wide that even 
when the rainy season has already begun you can still see the dry bed in 
many places. Then began the landscape which was to become at once 
familiar, insupportable and indispensable during the years that I 
travelled in die interior. It is typical of central Brazil, from the Parana 
to the Amazonian basin: featureless, or at most gently rolling plateaux, 
distant horizons, a tangle of brushwood, and occasionally a troop of 
zebus that scattered as the train went by. Many travellers make the 
mistake of translating Mato Grosso as big forest : the word forest is 
rendered rather by the feminine *mata , whereas the masculine rnato* 
stands for the complementary element in South American landscape. 
Mato Grosso means, in feet, big bush*: and one could devise no better 
name for this part of the world. Wild and forlorn as it is, its very 
monotony is somehow grandiose and stirring. 

Admittedly I also translate sertao as bush . But the word has a 
slightly different connotation. Mato relates objectively to the bush as an 
element in the landscape which contrasts with the forest. Sertao, on the 
other hand, has a subjective significance: landscape, in this case, is 
considered in relation to human beings, and sertao means the bush , as 
opposed to land that is inhabited and cultivated a region, that is to 
say, where man has not yet contrived to set up his home. French 
Colonial sbflg has an equivalent in the word bled*. 

Sometimes the plateau is interrupted and there comes into view 
instead a wooded, overgrown valley: a happy valley , almost, beneath 
dhe unmeaiacing sky. Between Campo Grande and Aquidauana a 
deeper ravine allows us to glimpse the blazing cliffs of the Maracaju 
serra; over there in the gorges, at Corrientes, there is already to be 
found a gmmpo % centre, that is to say, of diamond-hunters. And 
suddenly the whole landscape changes: once past Aquidauana, the 
traveller enters the pantonal: the world s greatest marshland, which 
occupies the middle basin of the Rio Paraguay. 

Seen from the air, this region, with river after river snaking across 
the flat ground, seems to be made up of arcs and meanders where the 
water lies stagnant. Even the line of the river-bed seems marked with 

innumerable pentimenti, as if Nature had hesitate! before giving it its 
present and temporary course. At groand-lervel, the ptmtmd becomes 
a dream landscape. lie zebu-troops take rdfiige these, as if on an ark 
poised on the top of a submerged hill; and in the marshlands proper the 
big birds flamingoes, egrets, herons-iand together to foon compact 
islands, pink and white in colour, though not so feathery as the fentail 
foliage of the caranda-palrns which secrete a valuable wax in their 
leaves; these are the palm-trees whose severed grores alotie d 
misleadingly pleasant perspectives of this watery desert. 

Lugubrious and ill-named Porto Esperan^a remains in my memory 
as the oddest site to be found anywhere on the globe* Its only possible 
rival in this respect is Fire Island in the State of New York; and it 
amuses me to put the two side by side, for they have at least one tiring 
in common: that each, in its different key, offers within itself the 
wildest contradictions. Geographically and humanly speaking an 
identical absurdity finds outlet in them: comic in the one case, sinister 
in the other. 

Perhaps it was Swift who invented Hre Island? It s a long stop of 
sand on which nothing grows, and it runs to seaward of Long Hand. It 
has length, but not breadth: fifty-odd miles in one direction, two or 
three hundred yards in the other. On the ocean side the sea runs freely , 
and with such violence that people dare not bathe there. To landward 
a flat calm prevails, and the water is so shallow that it s as much as 
you can do to get wet. People amuse themselves by catdbing the inr- 
edible fish of the region; and in order that these should not decay 
notices are posted at regular intervals along the beach, ordering die 
fishermen to bury their catch as soon as they have it out of the water. 
The dunes of Kbre Island are so unstable, and so precarious is their 
ascendancy, that another series of notices has been put up: *Keep Off 
The Dunes, this says, for they may suddenly subside into the waters 
below. It s Venice back-to-front, with earth that turns to water and 
canals that hold firm: the inhabitants of Cherry Grove, the hamlet 
which stands at the half-way point of the island, can move about only 
on a network of wooden gangplanks that has been put up O@Q stilts. 

The picture is completed by the fact that Cherry Grove is mainly 
inhabited by homosexual couples doubtless drawn to the area by its 
wholesale invasion of the normal conditions of life. As nothing grows 
in the sand, save large clumps of poison ivy, there s daily revictualling 
at the island s only shop. This stands at the landing-stage; and as each 
sterile couple clambers back up towards the cabins that line the slender 

144 The Caiuveo 

alleys above the dunes, it pushes before it a pram: no other form of 
vehicle can negotiate the narrow streets . Empty they are, none the less, 
but for the week-end bottles of milk that no nurslings are waiting to 

Fire Island has an element of high-spirited farce; its equivalent at 
Porto Esperan^a is adapted, one would say, to a population more 
thoroughly damned. Nothing justifies the existence of this town; it s 
simply that the railway-track pulls up at this point against the river, and 
a line a thousand miles long, which runs through uninhabited territory 
for three-quarters of its length, comes to a halt. Thenceforward it s by 
boat alone that the traveller can penetrate the interior; the line peters 
out on the muddy river-marge, where a ramshackle construction of 
planks serves as a landing-stage for die little river-steamers. 

The railway employees form the entire population; their homes, the 
entire town. Wooden huts, they are, built directly on the marshes, and 
accessible only by the decrepit gangways which mark out the inhabited 
area. The company had put at our disposition a chalet : a cubiform 
box, that is to say, that stood on tall stilts and was reached by a ladder. 
Tie door opened into space above a railway-siding, and we were 
aroused at dawn by the whisdc of the tall-framed locomotive that was 
to serve us as our private limousine. The nights were very disagreeable; 
evearytMng combined to make sleep impossible the damp heat, the 
big marshncttosquitoes that moved in to the attack, and even our 
mosquito-nets whose design, all too carefully studied before departure, 
temed out to be far from satisfactory. At five o clock in the morning, 
when the steam from our locomotive came hissing up through the 
flimsy floor, the day had already developed its full heat. There was no 
mist, in spite of the damp, but the sky was like lead and the atmosphere 
seemed weighted down, as if by some supplementary element that had 
made it impossible to breathe. Luckily die locomotive got up a good 
speed and as we sat in the breeze with our legs dangling over the 
gtiard-irons we gradually shook off the night s languor. 

Tbe single track (it s used by two trains a week) had been laid across 
the marshes in roughr-and-ready style. It was no more than a flimsy 
gangplank that the locomotive seemed constantly disposed to jump 
aside from* On either side of the line there was water: dirty, disgusting, 
stale, and foul in smell. Yet this was to be, for weeks, our drinking* 

To left and right were clumps of shrubs, spaced out as if in an 
orchard; at a distance diey formed into dark masses, while the sky, 

Pantanal %** 

reflated in the water, projected here and there its own likeness beneath 
the branches. Everything seemed to be simrryr^g at a low heat: it was 
a stew that would take a long time to mature. If it were possible to 
linger for many thousands of years in this prehistoric landscape, and to 
follow its evolution closely, we should no doubt witness the trans 
formation of organic matter into peat, or coal, or petroL I even drought 
that I saw some petrol rising to die surface, staining the water with 
its delicate iridiscence; this intrigued our engine-crew, who had refused 
to believe that we should give ourselves, and them, so much trouble 
for the sake of a few shards; and they were encouraged by our pith 
helmets, symbol of the engineer*, to believe that archaeology was 
merely a pretext for prospecting of a more lucrative sort. 

Sometimes the silence was broken by creatures who were not 
frightened by us: a veado y or astonished and white-tailed roebuck; or a 
troop of emu (small ostriches); or the white flash of the egret as k 
skimmed along the surface. 

As we went along, workmen would often hail the locomotive and 
clamber up beside us. Then came a halt: Kilometre 12; the branch-line 
gave out at that point and we had to do the rest of the journey on foot. 
We could already see opr destination in the distance, with its typical 
look of the capm. 

The waters of the pantanal are not stagnant, as they would seem to 
be; they drag along with them a quantity of shells and alluvium, which 
piles up at points where vegetation has taken root. This is how the 
pantanal comes to be strewn with spiky tufts of verdure oipSes, they 
are called where once the Indians set up jfeftjr camps. Traces of dbek 
passage may still be found. 

And so we would go off every day to our particular cspfo, which 
we reached by a wooded track that we had bcrik up with sleepers taken 
from the ride of the line. Tliese were vary disagreeable days* for it was 
difficult to breathe, and our drinking-water*, taken direct from the 
marshes, was hot from the sue. At the aid of the day the locomotive 
came to fetch us; or sometimes it was one of the devils , as they were 
called open trucks pushed along by workmen who stood, oee in each 
corner, and shoved away with long sticks, like gondoliers. Wearied 
and thirsty, we had before us a sleepless night in the desert of Porto 

Some sixty or seventy miles distant there was a laig^sh cultivated 
area which we had chosen as our departure-base for the Caduveo. The 
Fazenda jrmcesa, as it was called on the line, occupied a strip of some 

146 The Caduveo 

one hundred and twenty-five thousand acres alongside of which the 
train ran for about eighty miles. In all some seven thousand animql^ 
wandered here and there among this great expanse of brushwood and 
dry grasses (an animal needs, in the tropics, not less than fifteen or 
twenty-five acres to itself). Periodically, and thanks to the feet that the 
train stopped two or three times along the edge of the domain, these 
animals were exported to Sao Paulo. The halt which served the in 
habited part of the area was called Goaycurus a name that called to 
mind the great warrior-tribes that once ruled over the region; of these 
tribes the Caduveo are the last survivors. 

Two Frenchmen managed the property, with the help of a few 
families of cowherds. Tve forgotten the name of die younger French 
man, but the other, who was rising forty, was called Felix R. Don 
Felix, he was commonly named. He was later murdered by an Indian. 

Our hosts had either grown up or served in the forces during the 
First World War. By temperament and by aptitude alike they were cut 
out to become settlers in Morocco, and I don t know what it was that 
led them to leave Nantes and head for a more precarious adventure in 
a derelict region of Brazil. The Fazendajrancesa was, in any case, in a 
bad way* Ten years had passed since its foundation, all its capital had 
been absorbed by the initial purchase of the land, and the owners had 
nothing left with which to buy better beasts or newer equipment. Our 
hosts lived in a huge English-style bungalow. Half grocers, half cattle- 
raisers, they led an austere existence. Tihtfazenda s sales-counter was, 
in efiect, the only provision-store for sixty or seventy miles in any 
direction. The empregados^ or employees workers or peons came and 
spent there with one hand what they had earned with the other; an 
entry in die books sufficed to turn them from creditors into debtors, 
and it was rare, in point of feet, for money actually to change hands. 
As most things were sold at two or three times their normal price 
such was the accepted practice it would have been quite a going 
concern if the shop had not occupied a merely subsidiary place in tie 
whole venture. It was heart-rending to watch the workpeople on a 
Saturday. They would arrive with their litde crop of sugar-cane, press 
it immediately in the fazerutas engenho (a machine made of trunks 
roughly squared off, in which the cane-stalks were crushed by tie 
rotation of three wooden cylinders), evaporate the juice in a hot iron 
pan, and pour what remained into moulds, where it turned into tawny 
blocks, granular in consistency. Rapadura, these were called: and they 
would hand them in to the adjacent store. When evening came they 

Pantanal 147 

would re-present themselves, this time as customers, and pay a high 
price for the right to ofier their children their own product refijr- 
bished, by then, as the sertaos only sweetmeat. 

Our hosts took a philosophical view of their role as exploiters of 
the natives. They had no contact with their employees outside of 
working hours, and no neighbours of their own class (the Indian 
reserve stood between them and the nearest plantations on the Parsn 
guayan border). The very severity of the life which they imposed on 
themselves was, no doubt, their best protection against discouragement. 
In dress and drink alone did they make some concession to their adopted 
continent. Living in a frontier-area where traditions were a mixture of 
Brazilian, Paraguayan, Bolivian, and Argentinian, they dressed pampa- 
style: a Bolivian hat of finely woven unbleached straw, with wide 
upturned brim and tall crown; and the chiripa, a grown-up s variant of 
swaddling clothes. Made of cotton and delicate in colour, with stripes 
of pink or blue or mauve, it left the legs and lower thighs bare. Cloth- 
topped white boots came well up the wearer s calves. When the weather 
turned cool, the chiripa gave place to the bombacha: billowing trousers 
such as zouaves wear, with rich embroidery down the sides. 

Almost all their working hours were spent in the corral, where 
they worked over their animals looking them over, that is to say, 
and picking out those which were ready for sale. A storm of dust arose 
as the beasts, urged on by the capataz guttural cries, filed past before 
their masters and were separated, some into one park, some into 
another. Long-horned zebus, fat cattle, and terrified calves weat 
stumbling through the barriers. Sometimes a bull jibbed; and when 
this happened the lassoeiro would send his forty yards of finely plaited 
thong whirling through the air, and in a flash, as it seemed, the bull 
would be captured and horse and horseman pranced in triumph. 

But twice a day at eleven-thirty in the morning and seven in the 
evening there was a general assembly underneath die pergola which 
ran round their house. The ritual in question was that of the chimarrao: 
mate drunk through a tube. The mate is a tree of the same family as 
our ilex; and its foliage, lightly roasted over the smoke of an under 
ground fire, is pounded into a coarse powder, the colour of reseda, 
which keeps for a long time in kegs. I m talking of the real mate, of 
course: the product sold in Europe under that name has usually under 
gone such sinister transformations as to bear no resemblance to the 

There are several ways of drinking mate. When on an expedition 

148 The Caduveo 

we were too impatient for its immediate stimulus to do more than 
throw a large handful of the powder into cold water and bring it 
quickly to the boil. (It s vital, even then, to whip it off the fire at the 
very moment it boils: otherwise it loses all savour.) That is what is 
called cha de matt, an infusion in reverse, dark green in colour and almost 
oily, like a cup of strong coffee. When time was short, we made do 
with the terere: this simply involved pouring cold water on a handful 
of the powder and sucking it up through a tube. Those who dislike a 
bitter taste often prefer the mate doce* favourite of the beauties of 
Paraguay: the powder, in this case, is mixed with sugar, turned to 
caramel over a quick fixe, plunged into boiling water, and passed 
through a sieve. But I know of no amateur of mate who does not give 
pride of place to the chitmrrao, which is at once a social rite and, as was 
the case at tkzfazenda, a secret vice. 

All present sit in a circle around a little girl, the china, who has with 
her a kettle, a charcoal-stove, and a cuia, which may be either a calabash 
with a silver-mounted mouth, or, as at Guaycurus, a zebu horn sculpted 
by a peon. The cuia is two-thirds full of powder, and the little girl 
gradually saturates this with boiling water; as soon as the mixture has * 
a paste she takes up a silver tube whose bulbous extremity is 
with holes, and with this she carefully scoops out a hollow in 
&crf*astse, so designed that the pipe rests at die very bottom of the cuia, 
in the little grotto where the liquid collects. The tube, meanwhile, 
most have just enough pky not to spoil the equilibrium of the paste, 
bet not too much: otherwise the water will not mbr in properly. The 
chim&rrao is then ready, and it only remains to let the liquid saturate 
frilly before it is offered to the master of the house. He takes two or 
three draughts and gives the vessel back to the little girl; whereat the 
operation is repeated for everyone present men first, and women 
later, if women are present at alL And so it continues until the kettle is 

lie first draught or two will yield a delicious sensation to the 
habitue, that is to say: the novice will often burn himself. This sensation 
is made up of die slightly greasy texture of the hot silver, the effer 
vescent water, and the rich, foamy substance that is borne up with it: at 
once bitter and aromatic, as if a whole forest had been concentrated 
into half a dozen drops. Mate contains an alkaloid analogous to that 
found in coffee, tea, and chocolate, but on account of its dosage and 
also perhaps because of the tartness of the liquid itself it is as soothing 
as it is invigorating. After the vessel has been round a few times the 

Pantanal 349 

mate begins to lose its quality, but if you explore carefully you can 
still plunge the pipe into anfractuosities as yet unexplored; these 
prolong the pleasure with, fresh bursts of bitterness. 

Mate is vastly superior, one must say, to the Amazonian gmrana* 
of which I shall speak later; and, even more so, to the wretched wca of 
the Bolivian plateau: this is a most paltry compilation of dried leaves 
that soon degenerates into a fibrous ball, flavoured like a tisane, that 
acts as an anaesthetic on the mucous membrane and reduces one s 
tongue to the status of a foreign body. Hie only drink that can compare 
with mate is the richly orchestrated chique of betel-nut beaten up with 
spices; simply terrifying, to the unprepared palate, is the salvo of scents 
and savours which this can let off. 

The Caduveo Indians lived in the low ground on the left bank of 
the Rio Paraguay, which was separated from the Fazen^a frmtesa by 
the bills of the Serra Bodoquena. Our hosts regarded the Caduveo 
Indians as idlers and degenerates, thieves and drunkards, who were 
summarily turned out of the pasturelands when they attempted to 
penetrate them. Our expedition seemed to them doomed from the 
start; and although they gave us generous assistance, without which we 
should never have achieved our ends, they regarded the whole venture 
with disapproval. Great was their stupefaction when we returned some 
weeks later with oxen as heavily laden as those of a caravan: huge 
ceramic jars, painted and engraved, roebuek-iides decorated in 
arabesque, wooden sculptures representing a vanished Pantheon. . . . 
It was a revelation, and one which left them strangely changed: when 
Don Felix came to call on me in Sao Paulo, two or three years later, I 
understood from him that he and his companion, who had treated the 
local population so vary much de hmt en fws, had *gone native*, as the 
English say. The little bourgeois parlour oftfazfazewla was hung with 
painted skins, and native potteries were to be found in every corner. 
Our friends were playing at the bazaars of Morocco or tbe Sudan, like 
the exemplary colonial administrators whom they should really have 
been. And the Indians, now their official suppliers, were made warmly 
welcome at thefazenda; whole famffffs were lodged there, in exchange 
for the objects they brought. Just how far did their intimacy go? It was 
difficult to imagine two bachelors able to resist the Indian girls when 
once they came to know them so attractive were they, half naked on 
festivaWays, with their bodies so patiently decorated with elegant blue 
and black scrolls and whorls that seemed to have been laid on the skin 
like a coating of elaborate lace. Be that as it may, Don Felix was 

150 The Caduveo 

murdered in 1944 or 1945: a victim not so much of the Indians, one 
might think, as of the disturbed state into which he had been thrown, 
a decade earlier, by the visit of us novice-anthropologists. 

Thefazendds store provided what we needed to eat: dried meat, 
rice, bkck beans, manioc flour, mate, coffee, and rapadura. We were 
also lent mounts; horses for the men, and oxen for our luggage, for we 
were taking with us a good deal of stuff to exchange for what we hoped 
to bring back: children s toys, glass necklaces, rings, scent; and also 
pieces of doth, blankets, clothes, and took. Some of the fazenda 
workers were to act as our guides very unwillingly, as it happened, 
for we were taking them away from their families at Christmas-time. 

The villagers were expecting us; no sooner had we arrived at the 
fazenda than Indian vaqueiros went off to announce that strangers 
bearing presents were on their way. This news was, if anything, 
disquieting to the Indians, who feared one thing above all: that we 
were cx>ming tomar owto to usurp their land. 

1 6 N alike 

ALIKE, capital of the Cacbveo country, is akmt 
a hundred miles, or three days* ride, from Guaycurus. (The oxen were 
sent on ahead, because of their slower speed.) For our first day s inarch 
we planned to climb the slopes of the Serra Bodoquena and spend the 
night on the plateau in the last of tke fazendds huts. We very soon 
got into narrow valleys where the grass stood so high that the horses 
could hardly make their way through it Swampy ground underfoot 
made the going still more laborious: my horse would slip, struggle back 
to firm ground as and when it could, and find itself entirely surrounded 
by vegetation. We then had to take great care: for an innocent4ooking 
leaf might secrete beneath it a wriggling egg-shaped mass of diminutive 
ticks, and these little orange-coloured brutes would get in under our 
dothes, spread all over our bodies like a tableKioth on the march, and 
bed down under our skin. The only remedy was for the victim to 
counter-attack immediately, jumping down offhis horse, stripping off 
his dothes, and beating them out as hard as he could, while one of his 
companions searched his body. Less catastrophic were the bigger singk 
parasites, grey in colour, which dung to the skin and inffictel no pain; 
hours or days later, when we happened to find them by touch, they had 
sunk into our flesh and had to be cut out with a knife. 

Eventually the ground deared and we got on to a stony track which 
led up to a dry forest, half trees and half cacti, A storm had been 
brewing since morning, and it broke just as we were rounding the 
top of some cactus-infested high ground We dismounted and looked 
for shelter in a hole in the rock: this turned out to be a grotto which, 
though damp in itself would protect us from the storm. As soon as we 
got into it, there arose an immense whirring and stirring of bats: we 
had disturbed their lumbers. 

The rain over, we rode on through the darkened and overgrown 

152 The Caduveo 

forest. It was full of cool smellsand wild fruit: the heavy-fleshed, bitter- 
tasting ^empopo, and in the clearings theguavira which was supposed to 
refresh every traveller with the perpetual coolness of its pulp, and the 
caju which proved that once the Indians had had a plantation there. 

The plateau had the characteristic look of the Mato Grosso: high 
grass and scattered trees. We came up to our staging-point across a 
zone of marshland, where tiny waders cantered across the mud; by the 
corral, and then the hut, we recognized the Largon post, where the 
family was absorbed in the mise a mort of a bezerro, or young bull. They 
were getting to work on the body, while two or three naked children 
clambered over the bleeding carcass with cries of delight. Above the 
open fire which shone out in the twilight the churrasco, shiny with 
grease, was roasting, while the urubus carrion vultures came down 
by the hundred to the scene of the slaughter and fought with the dogs 
for the bloody remains. 

From Largon onwards we followed the so-called Indians route . 
The serra ran steeply downhill so much so that our horses took fright 
and we had to dismount and guide them. The track ran above a 
torrent and we could hear, even if we could not see, the water 
cascading down off the rocks; we ourselves slipped and slithered, 
mfanwirile, on the damp stones or in the muddy pools left by the last 
fall of rain. Eventually, at the foot of the serra, we came to a circular 
clearing, the campo dos inctios, where we and our mounts rested for a 
while before plunging again into the marshes. 

Already at four in the afternoon we had to begin planning for our 
*night*s rest*. We sought out a group of trees from which to hang 
hammocks and mosquito-nets; our guides lit a fire and began preparing 
orar meal of rice and dried meat. We were so thirsty that we drank 
deeply of the repellent mixture of earth, water, and permanganate 
whkii was all we had to drink. Night fell, and for a moment we 
watched the sky go scarlet behind the dirtier muslin of our mosquito- 
nets. Hardly had we gone to deep before we had to be off again: at 
midnight, when the guides woke us, they had already saddled the 
horses. It was die hot season and we had to make the most of the cool 
of the night. We set off in the moonlight, still half asleep, shivering 
with cold, and generally fit for nothing. We watched for the dawn, 
hour after hour, as our horses stumbled forward. About four o clock in 
the morning we got to Pitoko, where the Indians* Protection Service 
had once had an important outpost. AH that remained of this was three 
ruined houses: just enough for us to swing our hammocks from. The 

Nalike 153 

Rio Pitoko ran silently on towards the point, a mile or two farther 
on, where It vanished again into the pantanaL A marshland river, with 
neither source nor mouth, it harboured a mass of piranhas: dangerous 
to the unwary bather, these did not deter the wily and experienced 
Indians either from bathing or from drawing such water as they needed. 
A few families of Indians are still to be found here and there in the 

Thenceforward we were in the pantanal proper: either shallow 
basins of floodland between wooden crests, or immense tree4ess 
expanses of mud. A saddled ox would have served better thati a horse; 
for, slow as he is, the massive ox, with the guiding rein passed through 
his nostril, is better able to stand the strain of plunging forward through 
mud that often comes up to his breast-bone. 

We were in a plain that stretched as far, perhaps, as the Rio Para 
guay, a plain so flat that the water could never drain off it, when there 
caine down upon us the worst storm that I have ever had to face. There 
was no possibility of shelter not a tree in sight in any direction 
nothing to do but to go slowly forward, while to right and to left of 
us the thunder rolled and the lightning flashed like an artillery barrage, 
and the water ran down off horses and men alike. After a two hours* 
ordeal the rain stopped, and we could see the squall moving slowly 
across the horizon, as happens sometimes on the high seas. But already 
at the far edge of the horizon there was outlined a terrace of day, 
perhaps a few dozen feet high, on which a group of huts stood out 
against the sky. We were approaching, not Nalike, but the nearby 
village of Engenho. We had decided to stay there in preference to 
Nalike, which in 1935 could muster only five huts in alL 

To an inattentive eye these hamlets differed hardly at all from those 
of die nearest Brazilian peasants. Sock, too, was die proportion of half- 
castes that the inhabitants were indistinguishable both in thribr way of 
dressing and in their physical type. But the language was a very 
different matter: the gtmcunt manner of speech was delightful to the 
ear. They were headlong talkers, with a profusion of long words made 
up of the alternation of open vowels with dental and guttural sounds 
and an abundance of soft or liquid phonemes which sounded like a 
stream dancing over pebbles. The word caduveo* (pronounced 
*cadiueu*) is a corruption of the natives* own name for themselves: 
"Cadiguegodi*. Our stay was too short for us to attempt to learn their 
language, especially as our new hosts* grasp of Portuguese was 
rudimentary in the extreme* 

The Cabiveo 

The houses were supported by trunks, stripped of their bark, 
which stood firmly at the four corners; horizontal beams were lodged 
in die fork of the first branch, which the woodsman had been careful not 
to cut rigjit through. A blanket of yellowed palm-leaves formed a roof 
that sloped down on both sides, but the huts differed from the 
Brazilian lodges in that they had no walls; they were, in feet, a com 
promise between the white men s huts (from which the roof had been 
copied) and the ancient native shelters, whose roofing had been flat 
and made of matting. 

There was much to be learnt from the dimensions of these rudi 
mentary homes. Rarely did they shelter a single family only; some were 

FIG. 5. Water-jar, decorated in bright red 
and varnished with black resin 

like long narrow hangars, and housed as many as six families, each of 
whom had its clearly defined Irving-space. This was furnished with 
platform-beds made of planks, on which the tenants would spend their 
time: lying, sitting, or squatting, among the buckskins, lengths of 
cotton, calabashes, nets, and straw baskets which were laid, or heaped, 
or hung all over the place. In the corner could be seen the big decorated 
water-jars which stood on forked wooden supports: sometimes these 
supports were sculpted. 

These constructions had once been long houses , not unlike those 
of the Iroquois, and some of them still looked to deserve the name. But 
it was now merely for reasons of convenience that several families 
would live in the same house, whereas formerly the residence had 

Nalike 155 

been matrilocal: the sons-inr-law woaH congregate with their wives in 
die house of their pareots-in-kw. 

"The past* was, in any case, far distant in this pitiaHe hamlet, where 
there remained not so much as a memory of the prosperity which the 
painter-explorer Girido Boggiani witnessed in 1892 and again in 1897. 
Boggiani s two journeys yielded both a delightful travel-diary and an 
important collection, now in Rome, of anthropological documents. 
The total population of the three centres was not above two hundred. 
They lived by hunting, collecting wild fruit, rearing a few cows and 
some farmyard animals, and cultivating a few strips of manioc on the 
far side of the little stream their only erne which ran below the foot 
of the terrace. The water was opalescent and slightly sweet to the 
taste: we used it both for washingmosquitoes notwithstanding and 
for drinking. 

Apart from straw-plaiting, the weaving of the cotton belts worn 
by the men, and the hammering-out of coins (nickel more often than 
silver) into discs or tubes that could be strung on necklaces, pottery was 
the main activity of the inhabitants. The women would mix the clay 
of the Rio Htoko with pounded potsherds, roll the mixture in&> 
sausage-like pieces and press them together till the desired shape was 
formed; and when the day was still damp they would embellish it 
with string impressions, painted over with a ferrous oxide found in the 
serra. Then it was baked in the open air, after which it only remained 
to go on with the decorations while the pot was still hot, with the help 
of two varnishes of juicy resin: the black of die pau sanfo, and the trans 
lucent yellow of the angico. And when the pot had cooled they would 
go on to apply a white powder rhalt- or ash in order to touch up 
the impressions. 

The women also made little figures for the children with whatever 
came nearest to hand: day, or wax, or tie dried pods of a large fruit 
which needed only minor additions or re-modellings. 

The children also had litde wooden statuettes, often dothed in 
rags, which they used as dolk Some litde statuettes, seemingly very 
like the others, would be preserved with love and care by some of the 
older women and put away at the bottom of their baskets. Were these 
toys? Or likenesses of the gods? Or ancestor-figures? It was impossible 
to say, so contradictory were the uses to which they were put: and all 
the more so as one and the same statue would sometimes serve now one 
purpose, now the other. In some cases those now in the Muse de 
fHomme, for instance there can be no doubt that the meaning of the 

156 The Ccubivee 

statue was religious: we can recognize the Mother of the Twins, for 
instance, or the Little Old Man the god who had come down to earth 
and been ill-treated by mankind: now he was taking his revenge, and 
only that one family which had protected him was to be exempt from 
punishment. That the holy figures had been given over to the children 
as toys might, of course, be a symptom of the collapse of the faith in 
question; but this would be altogether too easy an interpretation. An 
identical instability, as it seems to us, was described by Boggiani in the 
18905, by Fritch a decade later, and by investigators who were there 
ten years later than myselE A situation which remains stationary for 
fifiy years can only be called, in one sense, normal; and to interpret it 
we must realize not only that religious values are crumbling as they 
undoubtedly are but that the natives have a particular way, and a way 
that is more widespread than we sometimes suppose, of handling the 
relations between the sacred and the profane. The opposition of the 
two is neither so absolute, nor so constant, as some philosophers have 
liked to suppose. 

In the hut next to mine there was a witchr-doctor whose equipment 
included a round stool, a head-dress of straw, a gourd-rattle covered 
with a cotton net, and an ostrich-feather which he used to capture the 
tefos, or evil spirits, which were the cause of all illness. Such was the 
power of the witdt-doctor T s own bkho that the patient, once cured, 
would be relieved also of the evil spirit. Hie beneficent bicho was also 
a natural conservative: he forbade his protege to let me have any of his 
equipment: I m used to it/ was the message he sent. 

While we were there, great celebrations were held to celebrate the 
puberty of a gid who lived in one of the other huts. They began by 
dressing her in the style of former days: in place of her cotton dress, a 
square piece of doth swathed round her from her armpits downwards. 
Elaborate designs were painted on her shoulders, arms, and face, and 
all the necklaces that they could lay hands on were heaped round her 
neck. AM this may, of course, have been not so much a matter of 
ancient tradition as an attempt to give us *our money s worth . Young 
anthropologists are always taugjbt that primitive peoples are frightened 
of the camera and that it is best to allay their fears with a preliminary 
gift, either in cash or in kind. The Caduveo had brought this to 
perfection: not only did they insist on being paid before they would 
pose for pictures, but they actually forced me to photograph them in 
order that they should be paid for podbg. Rare was the day on which a 
woman would not present herself in some freakish get-up or other and 

FIG. 6. Three examples of 
Cadirveo pottery 

RG. 7. Two wooden static 

ettes: the Litde Old 

Man (kft) and the 

Mother of the Twins 


FIG. 8. Caduveo jewellery made 
of hammered coins and 

insist that, whether I wanted to or not, I should photograph her and 
make her a present of a few milreis. As I had no films to waste I would 
often merely go through the motions* with the camera and hand over 
the money. 

Yet it would have been very bad anthropology to rebuff these 
people, or even to regard them as a symptom of decadence or money- 
For their manoeuvres were merely a transposed form of 

certain characteristics of their tribal traditions: the independence and 
authority of high-torn women, ostentatiousness when faced with 
strangers, and an insistence that the ordinary person should render 
them due homage. My job was to re-transpose these traits into the 
context of their former institutions. 

Similarly with the festivities which followed the ceremonial 
imposition of tribal dress upon our young lady-neighbour. From 
afternoon onwards the pinga (cane-sugar alcohol) began to go round, 
while the men, seated in a circle, laid loud claim to one rank or another 
in the lower hierarchy of the army (the only one of which they knew 
anything) corpora^ sergeant, lieutenant, captain. This was the 
counterpart of the solemn drinking-parties* described by eighteentfc- 
centory travellers, in which the chiefs, seated according to their rank, 
would be served by equerries, and heralds would call out the titles of 
each one, as he drank, and recite the list of his doughty deeds. 

Drink affected the Caduveo in a curious way: after a period of high 
excitement they fell into a doleful silence, which in its turn was suc 
ceeded by convulsive weeping. Two others, less far gone, would at 
this stage take their despairing comrade by the arm and march trim 
up and down, murmuring words of consolation and affection until he 


Nalike 159 

made up his mind to be sick. All three then returned to their places and 
fell to rtrmlring again. 

Meanwhile the women would repeat over and over again a brief 
three-note snatch of song. One or two of the older womm would 
gather to one side and get under way with a drinking-bout of their 
own, gesticulating and speechifying with what appeared an almost 
complete incoherence. Laughter and mischievous comment broke out 

RG. 9. Statuettes of mythological personnages in stone 

and wood 

all around them. Yet, here also, it would have been wrong to regard 
all this merely as self-indulgence on the part of a set of drunken old 
women. The ancient authors bear witness that these festivities and 
more especially those which marked some important stage in the 
growing-up of a child of noble birth were marked by transvestite 
demonstrations on the part of the women of the tribe: military parades, 
dances, and tournaments. In the 19305 these ragged peasants were a 
pitiable sight in tK^ir forlorn and marshy habitat; but thg*r wretched 
ness made it all the more striking that they should have clung so 
tenaciously to some vestige of tfaeir ancestral customs. 

17 A Native Society and its Style 

IHE ensemble of a people s customs has always its 
particular style; they form into systems. I am convinced that the 
number of these systems is not unlimited and that human societies, like 
individual human beings (at play, in their dreams, or in moments of 
delirium}, never create absolutely: all they can do is to choose certain 
combinations from a repertory of ideas which it should be possible to 
reconstitute. For this one must make an inventory of all the customs 
which have been observed by oneself or others, the customs pictured 
in mythology, and the customs evoked by both children and grown- 
of in their games. The dreams of individuals, whether healthy or sick, 
and jpsydk>fathological behaviour should also be taken into account 
WA aB this one could eventually establish a sort of periodical chart of 
chemical dements, analogous to mat devised by Mendeleier. In this, all 
customs, whether real or merely possible, would be grouped by 
fcmSies, and all that would remain for us to do would be to recognize 
those which societies had, in point of feet, adopted. 

These reflections are espedally apt in the case of the Mbaya- 
Goaicaru: the Caduveo in Brazil are, with the Paraguayan Toba and 
Rlaga, the last representatives of this people. Their civilization 
immediately calls to mind something which our own society has 
pictured in one of its traditional distractions something, too, whose 
essence was well captured by Lewis Carroll in Alice in Wonderlandfa 
these Indian knights remind us of the court-cards in the pack. Thek 
dress, to begin with: they wore tunics and leather surcoats which 
broadened their shoulders and hung stiffly down in folds, with painted 
patterns in red and Hack that reminded earlier travellers of Turkey 
carpets. To us, these patterns are notable for the moths of the spade, 
the diamond, the club, and the heart: these recur over and over again. 
They had their kings and their queens; and like those in Lewis 


A Native Society and its Style i<Si 

Carroll, the Caduveo queens loved to play with the severed heads that 
their warriors brought back from battle. Nobles of both sexes delighted 
in tournaments and were absolved from all menial tasks by an enslaved 
people that had been installed there long before the Caduveo and 
differed from them both in language and in culture: the Guana, All that 
now remains of these is the Tereno, who live in a governmental 
reserve not far from the little town of Miranda, I went to see dhein 
there. In former times the Guana tilled the soil and paid the Mbaya 
lords a tribute of agricultural produce in exchange for their protection*: 
as an insurance, that is to say, against pillage and sacking by bands of 
armed horsemen. A sixteenth-century German who ventured into the 
region described the relationship as similar to that then existing in 
central Europe between the feudal lords and their serfs. 

The Mbaya were organized by castes; at the top of the social ladder 
the nobles were divided into two orders: the great hereditary nobles, 
on the one hand, and individuals who had been raised to the nobility 
generally in order to sanction the coincidence that they had been 
born at the same rime as a child of high rank. The great nobles were 
also divided into senior and junior branches. Next came the warriors: 
and the best of these were admitted, afro: initiation, into a brotierhood 
which entitled them to bear special names and use an artificial language 
made up (as in certain forms of slang) by the addition of a suffix to 
every word. The slaves, whether of Chamacoco or other extraction, and 
the Guana serfs constituted a plebs: the Guam serfs had, however, 
divided themselves for their own purposes into three castes similar to 
those of their masters. 

The nobles bore, quite literally, the *marfc of their rank* in the form 
of pictorial designs painted or tattooed on their bodies* These were 
the equivalent of an escutcheon. Tbey plucked out all their facial hair 
eyebrows and lashes included and recoiled in disgust from the 
bushy-browed European: the ostriches* brother* was their narrre for 
fern- Men and women alike were accompanied in public by a suite of 
slaves and hangers-on: these vied with one another to spare them all 
effort. As late as 1935 their best draughtsmen, or draughtswomen, were 
hideous old monsters, heavily made up and weighed down with 
trinkets, who excused themselves for having had to give up their 
former accomplishments, now that they were deprived of the slaves 
who had once been at thek service. There were always, at Nalike, a 
few former Chamacoco slaves: now part of the group, they were still 
treated with condescension. 

. , TheCaJuveo 


Such was the cold arrogance of die great nobles that even the 
Spanish and Portuguese conquerors acknowledged it by according 
lion the style of Don and Dona. A white woman who was captured 
in those days by the Mbaya was said to have nothing to fear: no 
Mbaya warrior would contaminate himself by union with her. Certain 
Mbaya ladies refosed to meet the wife of the Viceroy: only the Queen 
of Portugal, they said, was worthy to associate with diem. Another, 
while still a young girl, and known as Dona Catarina, returned a polite 
refusal when the Governor of the Mato Grosso invited her to Guiaba; 
as she was of marriageable age she assumed that the Governor 
would ask for her hand in marriage, and it was out of the 
question for her ei ther to accept such an offer or to humiliate him by 

a refusal. 

Our Indians were monogamous; but the girls sometimes chose, in 

adolescence, to fellow the warriors in their adventures, serving them as 

equerries, pages, and mistresses. The noble ladies, for their part, had 

mm to dance attendance upon them; often these were also their lovers, 

bet no husimnd, in such a case, would deign to make any show of 

jealousy: by so doing he would have lost fece. What we call natural 

senfimcmts were held in great disfavour in their society: for instance, the 

idea of procreation filled them with disgust. Abortion and in&nticide 

uroe so common as to be almost normal to the extent, in feet, that 

it was by adoption, rather than by procreation, that the group ensured 

its ocmtmuance. One of the main objects of the warriors expeditions 

was to king back children. At the banning of the nineteenth century 

it was estimated that not more than one in ten of Guaicuru group were 

Gtiaicuru by birth. 

Such children as managed, in spite of this, to get born were not 
brought up by their parents, but fostered by another family. Their 
parents visited them only at rare intervals ; and until they reached thdr 
fourteenth year they were daubed from head to foot with black paint 
and caBed by the name that the Indians applied also to negroes, whea 
they came to know of them. Tliey were then initiated, washed, and 
relieved of one of the two concentric crowns of hair which they had 
worn until then. 

And yet die birth of a child of high rank was marked by festivities 
which were repeated at each stage in his growing-up: when he was 
weaned, when he learned to walk, when he first took part in games, 
and so cm. Heralds would call out the femily tides and predict a glorious 
foture for him; another baby, born at the same moment, would be 

164 The Cawdeo 

designated as his brother-in-arms; drinking-parties would be organized, 
daring which hydromel was served in goblets made from horns or 
skulls; and women would borrow the warriors armour and take one 
another on in mimic combat. The nobles, seated in order of precedence, 
were served by slaves who were forbidden to drink. Their task was to 
help their masters to vomit, in due course, and to watch over them 
until they finally fell asleep in search of the delicious visions which 
drink would procure for them. 

They saw themselves, these people, as the court-cards of the human 
pack. And the pride was founded upon the conviction that they were 
predestined to rule over the entire human race. This they were assured 
by a myth, now known to us only in fragmentary form; even the 
erosion of the years cannot quite conceal its radiant and admirable 
simplicity. It tells us that when the supreme being, Gonoenhodi, 
decided to create humanity, the Guana were the first of the tribes to 
come forth from the earth; the others came later. Agriculture was 
allotted to the Guana, hunting to the others. But then the trickster, who 
is the other deity in the Indian pantheon, noticed that the Mbaya had 
been forgotten at the bottom of the hole. He brought them forth; 
and the Mbaya were given the only function that remained: that of 
oppressing and exploiting all the other tribes. Has there even been a 
pcofoimdesr Social Contract? 

Characters, they were, from some old romance of chivalry: 
wrapped up in their cruel make-believe of domination and prestige. 
Yet they create! a style of graphic art which is like almost nothing else 
dbai; has come down to us from pre-Colombian America. 

la our tabe tie men were sculptors and the women painters. The 
men fashioned the santons which I have already mentioned from a hard 
Htriskfigpmm vitae. They also carved reliefs on the zebra-horns which 
they use as asps: men, ostriches, and horses. Tlieir occasional drawings 
were of leaves, or human beings, or animals. The women decora ted 
ceramics and hides; they also wod&ed on tie human body, and in this 
field some of them were pastntnasieo. 

Hie face, and sometimes tlie entire body, was covered with a 
network of asymmetrical arabesques that alternated with subde 
geometrical motifs. The fitst person to describe these was a Jesuit 
missionary, Sanche2rl^bi^dor, who lived among them from 1760 to 
1770. But for an exact: account we must wait another hundred years: 
for Boggianfs visits, in fact. In 1935 I myself made a collection of 
several hundred motifs. This is how I went about it: first I thought I 

166 The Caduveo 

would photograph them, but the ladies in question proved so demand 
ing financially speaking that I had to abandon the idea. Next I tried 
to draw human faces on sheets of paper and suggested to the native 
women that they should ornament those faces, just as if they were 
painting their own. This notion proved so successful that I was soon 
able to give up my own clumsy sketches. The designers were not in the 
least put off their stroke by the unfamiliarity of white paper, which 
shows how little their art is concerned with the natural architecture of 
the human face. 

Only a few very old women seemed to have kept the virtuosity of 
former times, and for a long time I believed that my collection had 
been made at the last possible moment. It was, in fact, a surprise to me 
when I received, some fifteen years kter, an illustrated account of a 
similar collection which had just been made by one of my Brazilian 
colleagues. Not only did the specimens seem to have been carried out 
with exactly the same assurance, but very often the motifs were 
identicaL Style, technique, and inspiration were unchanged, just as they 
had been over the forty years between Boggiani s visit and my own. 
This conservatism is the more remarkable in that it is not found at all 
in Caduveo pottery, which would appear from such examples as have 
lately been published to be in a state of complete degeneration. This 
may point to the exceptional importance of body-painting, and above 
all of face-painting, in Indian culture. 

The motifs were, at one time, either tattooed or painted; but 
tattooing has now quite dropped out. The painter, a woman, works on 
the face or body of one of her fellow-women, or sometimes on those 
of a .small boy. (It s becoming rarer and rarer for a grown man to be 
painted.) The artist uses a fine bamboo spatula dipped in the juice of 
the genipapo initially colourless, this kter turns blue-black by 
oxydkation and she improvises her design on the living model, with 
neither sketch, nor prototype, nor focal point to guide her. She 
ornaments die upper lip with a bow-shaped motif finished off with a 
spiral at either end. Then she divides the face with a vertical line; this 
she occasionally cuts across horizontally. From this stage onwards the 
decorations proceed freely in arabesque, irrespective of the position of 
eyes, nose, cheeks, forehead, and chii> as i in fact, the artist were 
working on a single unbroken surface. Her compositions, perfectly 
balanced for all their asymmetry, can begin from any corner of the face 
and proceed without slip or hesitation to their final conclusion. The 
basic shapes are relatively simple spirals, S-forms, crosses, saw-edges, 

FIG. 14 

Ite. 15 

More motifs used m 

168 The Caduveo 

nets, and helices but they are combined in such a way that each design 
has a character of its own. In all the four hundred designs that I 
collected in 1935, no two were alike. But when I compared my 
collection with that made some years later by my Brazilian colleague, 
I found widespread similarities between the two. It therefore seems that 
die artists* repertory, though enormous, is none the less regulated by 
tradition. Unfortunately, neither I nor my successors have been able to 
establish the theory behind these designs; native informants have words 
for the baric patterns, but when it comes to combining them, they 
claim either to have forgotten, or not to know them. Either, in short, 
they operate on the basis of an empirical *know-how* transmitted from 
generation to generation; or they are determined to keep intact the 
secrets of their art. 

Today the Caduveo paint one another entirely for their own 
oyoyment; but the practice had once a much deeper meaning. 
tells us that the nobles had only their foreheads 

painted; to have it done all over the face was a mark of the plebs. 
Painting was also confined, at that period, to the younger women. Old 
women lardy waste their time in this way: the lines that age has 
engraved are quite enough for them/ The missionary was disquieted 
by dris ootttoopt for the Creator s activity: why should the natives 
insist on changing die look of the human fece? He searched for an 
Was it to forget their hunger that they spent so many 

hours OTOT these arabesques? Or to make themselves unrecognizable 
to dieir enemies? Deception does, beyond question, have much to do 
with. it. Why? Hie missionary realizes, however reluctantly, that these 
paintings have a primordial importance for die Indians and are, in a 
sense, *aa ead in tfaoBsetves*. 

And so he reproached them for spending day after day on these 
paintings, Bseglectfiil meanwhile of hunting and fishing and families 
alike. Bat Ac natives would answer the missionaries and say: You 
are the stupid oiies, since you don t paint yourselves lie the 
Eyiguayegeis/ Painting was a part of manhood: net to be painted was 
to be one with the brates, 

It is pretty well certain that if the custom still persists among 
Caduveo women it is mosdy for erotic reasons. The reputation of these 
women is solidly established on bodi banks of the Rio Paraguay; many 
half-castes and Indians fiom odier tribes have settled and married in 
Nalike. 1%e painting of face and body may explain this attraction; 
certainly they reinforce and symbolize it. The delicate and subtle 

PIG. 18. Drawings made by a young 
Caduvean boy 


contours are no less sensitive than those of the face itself; sometimes the 
one accentuates the other, sometimes it runs counter to it; in both cases 
the effect is deliriously provocative. As a result of this, as it were, 
pictorial surgery, art secures a sort of ckw-hold upon the human body. 
When Sanchez-Labrador complains that the Indians prize an artificial 
ugliness above the graces of Nature* he very soon contradicts himself 
saying a line or two later that even the most beautiful tapestries cannot 
compare with these paintings. Never, it seems, have the erotic effects 
of make-up been so consciously and so systematically exploited. 

BG. 19. Another drawing by die same artist 

The Mbaya manifested in their fare-paintings that abhorrence of 
Nature which made them resort so freely to abortion and infanticide. 
Their art revealed, in fact, a sovereign contempt for the clay of which 
we are made; art, for them, comes dangerously dose to sin. As a Jesuit 
and a missionary, Sanchez-Labrador showed an exceptional pers 
picacity when he divined the presence of the demon in these paintings. 
He himself underlined, the Promethean aspect of this savage art when 
he described how the natives would cover the body with star-shaped 
motifs: *Each Eyiguayegui sees himself/ he wrote, *as an Adas who 
bears, not only upon his hands and shoulders but upon his whole body, 
the weight of a clumsily charted universe/ And this may, indeed, 

21* Design painted on leather 

explain die exceptional character of Caduveo art: that it makes it 
possible for Man to refuse to be made in God s image. 

Hie recurrence in these paintings of lines, spirals, and curlicues must 
inevitably remind us of the iron- and stucco-work of Spanish baroque. 
Perhaps we are, in effect, faced with a style that has been borrowed 
from the Caduveo s conquerors? They did undoubtedly appropriate 
certain themes: we know of more than, one example of this. In 1857, 
when a warship, tlie Mwrnanha, made its first appearance on the 
Paraguay a party of Indians paid her a visit; and on the following day 
they were seen to have drawn anchors all over their bodies. One Indian 
had gone so far as to cover all the upper half ofhis body with a com plete 
representation of a white officer, complete with buttons, stripes* belt, 
and coat-tails. This only proves that die Mbaya were already habitual 
and accomplished painters. Tlieir curvilinear style has few counterparts 
in pre-Colombian America, but it offers analogies with archaeological 
documents which have been discovered in more than one part of the 
continent: and some of these pro-date the discovery by several 
centuries. Hopewell, in the valley of Ohio, and the more recent caddo 


A Native Society and its Style 173 

pottery in the Mississippi valley; Santarem and Marajo, at the mouth 
of the Amazon; Chavin, in Peru. This dispersion is in itself a sign of 

The real problem lies elsewhere. Any student of the Gaduveo 
designs will soon realize that their originality does not Be in the 
elementary patterns, which are simple enongh to have been invented 
rather than borrowed (probably they were both invented and bor 
rowed) ; it lies in the combination of these initial patterns in the result, 
that is to say the finished work. But the compositional procedures are 
so systematic and so fastidious that they go far beyond any suggestions, 
in tie same field, that the Indians might have picked up by way of 
European Renaissance art. Whatever the point of departure may have 
been, the development was so extraordinary that it can only be 
explained by features native to the Indians themselves, 

In an earlier essay I tried to define some of these by comparing the 
art of the Caduveo with the analogous art of societies elsewhere: 
archaic China, the north-west coast of Canada and Alaska, New 
Zealand. My hypothesis here is a different one; but one that com 
pletes, rather than contradicts, my earlier suggestions. 

As I noted then, Caduveo art is marked by a dualism: the men 
sculpt, the women paint; and whereas the sculpture is, for aH its 
stylizations, representative and naturalistic, the paintings are non- 
representative. Painting alone concerns me here, but I should like to 
emphasise that this dualism may be found elsewhere and on more than 
one level. 

Two styles are current among the women painters: abstraction and 
the decorative purpose are at the root of both. Tlbe one is angular and 
geometrical, the other free and curvilinear. Most compc^iticms aie based 
upon an orderly mingling of the two. One may be used, for example, 
for the border, or the frame, and tie other for the central paneL 
Where pottery is concerned the combination is still more stoking: the 
decoration of the nock being curvilinear, and that of the bdly 
geometrical, or vice versa, The curvilinear styfe is m<>re usually adopted 
for face-painting, geometry being reserved for the body; though at 
times each region may be adorned with a combination of the two. 

In every case other principles may be seen to have been integrated; 
these always go in pairs. An initially linear contour may later, for 
instance, be blocked in* here and there. In most designs, two themes 
are to be found in alternation. And as a rde the subject and background 
are interchangeable, so that the design may be read in cither of two 

174 The Cabtveo 

ways: a positive and a negative. Often, too, principles of symmetry and 
asymmetry are put into practice simultaneously: die design being not 
so much cut up or divided off as gyronny or quartered, tranche or 
parted per bend sinister. (The heraldic terms are, in feet, very apt, since 
these principles have much in common with those of the escutcheon.) 

Take an example: the simple-seeming body-painting which I 
reproduce opposite. It consists of undulating and accosted pales which 
mark out spindle-shaped fields whose centre is occupied (one to each 
field) by a small charge. This description is deceptive: let us look more 
closely. It may give some idea of the general appearance of the drawing, 
once it is completed. But the draughtswoman did not begin by tracing 
her wavy ribbons, and then go on to ornament each interstice with a 
charge. Her method was different, and more complicated. She worked 
like a paver, building up row after successive row with the help of 
identical elements. Each element is made up in the following way: a 
section of ribbon, made up of the concave part of one band and the 
convex part of the one next to it; a spindle-shaped field; a charge in the 
centre of that field. These elements overlap, disconnectedly, and it is 
only at the end that the whole design achieves a stability which at once 
confirms and denies the dynamic principle which has governed its 

The Caduveo style presents, us, therefore, with a whole series of 
<xmpEcations* The dualism, to begin with, which recurs over and over 
again, on one level or another, like a hall of mirrors: men and women, 
painting and sculpture, abstraction and representation, angle and curve, 
geometry smtd arabesque, neck and belly, symmetry and asymmetry, 
border and centrepiece, figure and ground. But these antitheses are 
glimpsed after die creative process, and they have a static character. Hie 
dynamic of art die way, Le. in which die motifs are imagined and 
carried out cuts across dbis fundamental duality at every level. The 
primary themes, initially disarticulated, are later blended into secondary 
diemes which establish a sort of provisional unity among fragments 
borrowed from their predecessors, and these in their turn are juxtaposed 
in such a way that the original imity reappears* as if as the result of a 
conjuring-tack. And then the complicated decorations which have 
been arrived at by this means are themselves once again cut out and 
brought face to face widi one another by means of escutcheon-4ike 

We may now understand why the Caduveo style strikes us as a 
subtler variant of that which we employ in. our playing-cards. Each of 

176 The Caduvto 

our cant-designs corresponds to a twofold necessity and must assume 
a double function. It must be an independent object, and it must 
serve for the dialogue or the dud in which two partners meet face 
to face. It must also play the role which is assigned to each card, in its 
capacity as a member of the pack, in. the game as a whole. Its voca 
tion is a complicated one, therefore: and it must satisfy demands of 
more than one sort symmetrical, where its functions are concerned, 
asymmetrical where its role is in question. The problem is solved by 
tie use of a design which is symmetrical but yet lies across an oblique 
axis. (An entirely asymmetrical design would have sufficed for the 
role but not for the function; and vice versa in the case of a design that 
was wholly symmetrical.) Once again we have a complicated situation 
based upon two contradictory forms of duality, and resulting in a 
compromise brought about by a secondary opposition between the 
ideal axis of the object itself and the ideal axis of the figure which it 
represents* But in order to reach this conclusion we have had to go 
beyond the plane of stylistic analysis: we have had, in short, to ask: 
*What is this object for?* And we have to ask the same question of 

We have replied in part to that question: or, rather, the Indians have 
replied for us. Hie fiu^-paintings confer upon the individual his 
digjoky as a human being: they help him to cross the frontier from 
Nature to culture, and from the mindless* animal to the civilized Man. 
fttrtheoBcne, they differ in style and composition according to social 
status, and thus have a social function* 

Important as it is to grasp these facts, they will not in themselves 
account for tfae originality of Caduveo art; at most, they explain to us 
why it exists. Let us proceed with our analysis of Caduveo society: Ae 
Mbaya were divided into diree castes, each dominated by preoccupa 
tions of social usage. For the nobles, and to a certain extent for Ae 
warriors also, prestige was the fundamental problem* Early traveEeo 
have described how Aey weie paralysed by the necessity of not losing 
face, and above ai of not marrying bo^adidion. Such a society wouM 
be in g^ave danger of segregation* Willingly or of necessity each casle 
tended to turn in upon itselC so that tie cohesion of Society as a whole 
was threatened* In particular the endogamy of the castes and die 
multiplication of hierarchical nuances would make it very difficult 
to arrange unions of a kind which conformed to die concrete necessities 
of collective life. Only thus can we explain the paradox of a society 
which has a horror of procreation, and is so afraid of the risks of 


FIG. 26. A face-pamting 

internal misalliance that it practises a sort of racialism in reverse, and 
mates a regular practice of incorporating enemies and foreigners within 
its ranks. 

In these conditions it is significant that, on the northr-east and south 
west extremes of the enormous territory controlled by the Mbaya, we 
come upon two almost identical forms of social organization, great as 
is the distance which separates them from one another. The Para 
guayan Guana and the Bororo of tie Mato Grosso had (and in the 
latter case still have) a hierardbical structure very similar to that of die 
Mbaya; they were, or are, divided into three classes which seem to have 
stood, in the past at any rate, for different social statuses. These classes 
were hereditary and endogamous. Yet the dangers which I have men 
tioned above were avoided in both cases by a vertical division which, in 
the case of the Bororo, also cut across the classes. Members of one class 
could not marry members of another, but in each class the members of 
one moiety were, on the contrary, compelled to marry members of 


A Native Society and its Style 179 

the other moiety. It would therefore be fair to say that asymmetry of 
class was balanced, in a sense, by symmetry of moieties . 

Should we envisage this complicated structure as a systematized 
whole? Possibly: though it is also tempting to separate the classes from 
the moieties and regard one as more ancient than die other; arguments 
for this can be adduced from both sides. 

But what interests us here is a question of quite a different kind. 
Brief as has been my description of the Guana and Bororo societies, it 
clearly suggests that on the sociological level these two societies have a 
structure comparable to that which we have detected, on the level of 
style, in Caduveo art. There is, in each case, a double antithesis. In die 
first instance a ternary and asymmetrical organization is opposed to 
one that is binary and symmetrical. In the second, social mechanisms 
based on reciprocity are opposed to social mechanisms based on 
hierarchy. In the effort to remain faithful to these contradictory 
principles the social group divides and subdivides itself into allied and 
opposed sub-groups. Just as an escutcheon is a symbolical assembly of 
prerogatives derived from many separate lines of descent, so is Society 
cut open, cut across, divided, and partitioned. As we shall see later, the 
organization of the groundr-plan of a Bororo village is comparable to 
that of a Caduveo drawing. 

It is as if the Caduveo and Bororo had been confronted with a 
contradiction in their social structure and managed to resolve or dis 
guise it by stricdy sociological methods. Perhaps they had had the 
moiety-system before they came under JMbaya influence: in that case 
the solution lay ready at hand. Or perhaps they invented or borrowed 
it later, when as a provincial people they lacked the standoffishness of 
the true aristocrat. Other hypotheses could be advanced. Anyway die 
Mbaya never adopted this solution: eidier because they did not know 
of it (though I find this hard to believe) or because it was incompatible 
with their fanaticism. So they were never lucky enough to resolve 
their contradictions, or to disguise them with the help of institutions 
artfully devised for that purpose. On the social level the remedy was 
lacking unless they deliberately set their faces against it but it never 
went completely out of their grasp. It was within them, never 
objectively formulated, but present as a source of confusion and 
disquiet. In fact, they dreamed of it: had they done so direcdy, it 
would have gone counter to their prejudices; but transposed, and 
present only in their art, it seemed harmless. Ike mysterious charm and 
(as it seems at first) the gratuitous complication of Caduveo art may 

The Caduveo 

well be a phantasm created by a society whose object was to give 
symbolical form to the institutions which it might have had in reality, 
tad interest and superstition not stood in the way. Great indeed is the 
fascination of this culture, whose dream-life was pictured on the faces 
and bodies of its queens, as if, in making themselves up, they figured 
a Golden Age that they would never know in reality. And yet, as 
they stand naked before us, it is as much the mysteries of that Golden 
Age as their own bodies that are unveiled. 


The Bororo 

1 8 Gold and Diamonds 

the gateway to Bolivia, lies facing 
Porto Esperan^a, on the right bank of the Rio Paraguay. Jules Verne 
might have imagined it: perched as it is on die top of a limestone cliff 
that overhangs the river. One or two litde paddle-steamos (two 
storeys of cabins, a hull low in the water, a flimsy smoke-stack) woe 
tied up, canoes all around them, to the quay whence mounted the path 
to Corumba. One or two building?, at the outset, seemed dispro 
portionately large; the Customs house, for instance, and the arsenal, 
which harked back to the time when the Rio Paraguay was die pre 
carious frontier between States that had recendy acquired dbeir inde 
pendence and were in a ferment of youthful ambition. And, also in 
those distant times, a mass of traffic had once passed up and down the 
river between Rio de k Plata and the interior. 

When the path got to die top of the cliff it ran along its crest for a 
couple of hundred yards and then turned sharply to the rigJiL Coromba 
was revealed: a long street of low, flat-roofed houses, roughly painted 
in white or beige. At the fer end was a square where grass grew among 
casatpmiae that had acid green leaves and orange flowers; beyond, die 
stony countryside stretched as far as the hills that dosed off the horizon. 

There was only one hotel, and it was always full A few rooms were 
to be had in private houses; but these were on the ground floor, damp 
with the dampness of the marshes, and haunted by bugs that turned 
the traveller into a modern variant of an early Christian martyr* Tht 
food, too, was execrable: the countryside being too poor, or too litde 
cultivated, to meet the needs of the two or diree thousand people 
sedentary workers or travellers who made up die population of 
Corumba. Prices were absurdly high, and the town had a look of 
frenzied animation which contrasted with the flat, deserted, spongy 
hinterland on the far side of the river. The atmosphere of Corumba 


1 84 TheBororo 

was such as must have reigned, a century earlier, in the pioneer towns 
of California or the Far West. In the evenings the entire population 
would assemble on the cliff-road. The young men would sit, legs 
dangling, on the balustrade, while the girls filed past, whispering, in 
groups of three or four. It had an air of ritual, this solemn pro- 
nuptial parade, in the light of the flickering electric lamps, with three 
hundred miles of marshland all around and ostrich and boa to be found 
even at the gates of the town. 

Corumba is, as the crow flies, a bare two hundred and fifty miles 
from Cuiaba. I witnessed the development of air travel between the 
two towns from the little four-seaters that bumped their way across 
in a matter of two or three hours to the twelve-seater Junkers of 193 8-9. 
But in 1935 the river was still the only means of travel, and the two 
hundred and fifty miles were doubled by the river s meanderings. 
During the rainy season it took eight days to reach the capital of the 
State; in the dry season it could be three weeks, so often did the 
steamers run aground, for all their shallow draught. Whole days were 
lost in the attempt to refloat the vessel, with the motor pulling its 
hardest on a cable tied to a stout tree on the bank. La the office of the 
stripping company a beguiling poster was to be found: on the opposite 
page is a rough transcription of its lay-out and style. The reality, 
needless to say, was very different. 

And yet what a marvellous journey that was ! Passengers were few: 
catde-feimers and their families on their way back to their animals; a 
ew Lebanese commercial travellers; some soldiers, garrison-bound; 
and a sprinkling of provincial officials. No sooner were these people 
on board than they changed, one and all, into the clothes which, for 
Aem, corresponded to a beach-suit: striped pyjamas (silk ones, where 
dandies were in question), through which much of their hairy persons 
could be glimpsed, and slippers. Twice a day we all sat down to a 
never-changing menu: a dish of rice, another of black beans, and a 
third of parched manioc flour; with these there went invariably a 
helping of bee fresh or dried* This was called^eyaaiz, after thefdjao, 
or bean. To this daily pabulum my companions brought a critical 
sense as keen and this was saying much as their appetites. The 
feijoada would be pronounced muito boa (first-class) one day and muito 
ruim (disgusting) the next. When it came to the dessert (cream cheese 
and fruit jelly, eaten together from the sharp end of the knife) their 
vocabulary was even more restricted: it either was, or was not, 
doce (sweet enough). 


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Corumba, or at Porto Esperanga, Your Excellency will reach his 
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is fastest and has more comforts to offer. 



Company has just renovated the excellent steamship GUAPORE* 
moving the dining-room to the upper deck aad so endowing the 
vessel with a magnificent DINING SALOON and a large area for 
the promenading of the distinguished passengers. 

Choose, therefore* without hesita&m fhefaxi steamers CIDADE 

1 86 The Bororo 

Every twenty miles or so the ship stopped to take on wood; and 
if need be the halt was extended to two or three hours while the cook 
went off into the fields, lassoed a cow, cut its throat, and (with the help 
of the crew) skinned it* It was then hoisted on board and we set off 
again with several days guaranteed provision of firesh meat. 

For the rest of the time the ship steamed quietly along the narrow, 
winding river; it was said to be negotiating* the estiroes counting ofl 
that is to say, the sections of the river which were bounded by corners 
sharp enough to cut off the view ahead. Sometimes the river wound 
round itself so completely that nightfall would find the ship only a 
few dozen yards from where it had started in the morning. Often, too, 
the boat would brush against the branches of the half-submerged forest 
that hung over the bank, while the sound of the engine made birds 
beyond number take wing: araras in a flash of blue, red, and gold; 
cormorants whose long necks were like winged snakes; parrots and 
parakeets whose loud cries were sufficiently like those of human beings 
for us to call them inhuman*. Prolonged study of a spectacle so 
monotonous and so near at hand induced in the traveller a sort of 
torpor, and only rarely was our interest quickened by something more 
unusual: a pair of deer or tapirs, swimming across the river; a cascavel 
(rattle-snake) or zgiboya (python) as it came wriggling to the surface, 
light as a straw; or a group of J4<^es inoffensive crocodiles that we 
soon wearied of despatching with a carbine bullet straight in the eye. 
Fishing for piranhas was more eventful: somewhere along the river was 
a large saladeiro where meat hung drying from a sort of gibbet. Bones 
were strewn on the ground beneath wooden racks; on these lay the 
purplish remains above which vultures hovered. The river was stained 
red for several hundred yards below the slaughter-house. We had only 
to throw a line overboard and, before even the unbaited hook had 
reached the surface of the water, piranha after piranha, drunk with 
blood, would leap forward and hang its golden lozenge on the hook. 
But the fisherman had to be careful how he handled his catch; the 
piranha can sever a finger at a single snap. 

After tie junction of the Sao Louren^o on the upper reaches of 
which we shall shortly travel to encounter the Bororo the pantanal 
disappeared. The landscape to either side became one of grassy 
savannah. More houses began to appear, and herds could be seen 

There was not much to draw Ctaaba to die traveller s attention: a 
paved ramp that ran down into the water, and above it the silhouette 

Gold and Diamonds 187 

of the former arsenal. Thence a road bordered widi countrified houses 
ran for more than a mile to the square where the cathedral stood, pink 
and white, between two rows of palmrtrees. To die left, the Bishop s 
palace; to the right, the Governor s. At the cornea: of the main street 
was the inn the only one, at that time kept by a fat Lebanese, 

I ve described Goyaz; and if I were to go on aboi& driaba I could 
only repeat myself. The rite is not so beautiful, but the town has the 
same sort of charm, with its austere houses, half cottage, half palace in 
siyle. As the site is sharply aoidented the upper windows usually have 
an extended view: white houses roofed with orangp tides, die fronds 
and foliage of the gardens, or quintets. Around the central L-shaped 
square a network of alleyways reminds one of die colonial cities of die 
eighteenth century. Follow any one of diem and you will come upon 
a patch of dead ground that serves for the caravan-trains, or an 
adumbrated avenue of mangoes and banana-trees with one oc two mud 
huts among diem; and then, in no time at all, the open cotantry, with 
pasturing herds of oxen on their way to or from the sertaQ. 

Cuiaba was founded in the middle of the eighteenth century. 
Towards 1720 Paulist explorers bmdeirmtes was their name pene 
trated the region for the first time and set up a litde outpost, with a 
handful of colonists, only a few miles from whore Cuiaba stands today. 
The territory was inhabited by Cuxipo Indians, some of whom agreed 
to help till die soiL One day a colonist, die apdy named Miguel Sutil, 
sent a small party of Indians to look for wild honey. They came back 
that same evening with their hands full of nuggets of gold that they had 
picked up off the ground. Sutil didn t waste a moment, but set off at 
once, with a companion named Barbudo the bearded one 1 to the 
area in question. And within a month they got together five tons of 

And so it s not surprising that parts of die country round Cuiaba 
look like a batdefiekL Mound after mound, covered widi brushwood 
and rough grass, bears witness to ancient frenzies. Even today a 
Cuiabano has been known to turn op a nugget of gold in his vegetable- 
patch. Gold is, in feet, always present in pailktte foam. Hie beggars of 
Cuiaba are gold-diggers* in the Eteral sense, and you can see them at 
work in the bed of the river that runs through die lower town. A day s 
exertions will bring them just enoogih to buy a meal, and in many 
shops in Cuiaba you can still find the litde pair of scales which measures 
off a spoonful of powdered gold against a cut of meat or a pound of 
rice. Any heavy rainfall wffl send the water tumbling down the 

i88 The 

ravines, and at such times you will see the children rush out, ball of 
wax in hand, and plunge it into the current in the hope that tiny 
sparkling particles of gold will stick to it. The Cuiabanas claim that a 
rich seam of gold passes beneath their city at a depth of several yards; 
just below the modest premises of the Bank of Brazil there is more 
gold, they say, than is ever to be found in its olA-fashioned safes. 

Coiaba has retained from its days of glory a style of life that is slow 
and ceremonious. The traveller s first day is taken up entirely with 
comings and goings across the square which separates the hotel from 
the palace of government, Hrst, he leaves a card in token of his arrival; 
an hour later the compliment will be returned by the AJD.C., a 
moustached constable; after the siesta which paralyses the entire city 
from noon till four in die afternoon the traveller pays his respects to 
the Governor. The anthropologist receives a polite but unenthusiastic 
welcome. Hie Indians are, for the Governor, an irritating reminder 
that he himself has fallen out of favour, politically speaking, and been 
banished to a remote and backward area. The Bishop feels much die 
same; but I mustn t suppose, he tells me, that the Indians are as stupid 
and aggressive as ooe might think; why, one Bororo woman had 
actually been converted! And die Diamantino brodiers had managed, 
after an unending straggle, to torn three Paressis into quite presentable 
carpenters! And as far as scholarship was concerned the missionaries 
had already tafco* note of all diat was worth preserving. Did I realize 
that the unlettered officials of the Protection Service wrote Bororo 
with an accent on the last vowel, whereas Father So-anct-So had 
&tablj&faed a good twenty years earlier that it should fefl on the middle 
one? And dfee fact diat the Bororo knew of die Deluge was a sure sign 
diat die Lord did not mpan diem to remain damned rill die end of time. 
I was feee to go among them, of course; but he did hope that I would 
do nothing to jeopardize die Fad^rs in their work. No trivial presents! 
No necklaces or hmd-gArors! Nothing but an axe or two, to remind 
diose lazy creatures diat wock was sacred. 

These formalities once discharged, one could get on to serious 
matters. Day afeer day would go by in die fetcfc-roomsof dieLebai^se 
traders towcos, they were called who were half wholesalers and half 
usurers. Their stock of hardware, textiles, and medical goods was 
destined to dozen upcm dozen of rdarioos, clients, and proteg&, who 
would buy cm credit, take a canoe or a few oxen, and extort what they 
could from customers marooned deep in die bush or in some distant 
bend of die river. Life was as hard for the travelling trader as it was for 

Gold and Diamonds 

his victim; but at least the trader could afford to retire after twenty or 
thirty years. 

Or I would spend hour upon hour at the baker s, while he was 
preparing bolachas by the sackful. (Bolachas are loaves made with un 
leavened flour that has been thickened with fat; they are hard as stone, 
but the oven gives them a marrowy quality, and when they have been 
shaken into small pieces on the road and impregnated with the sweat 
of the oxen they finish up as a form of food for which it is difficult 
to find a name: and as rancid, certainly, as the dried meat from the 
butcher.) Our butcher at Cuiaba was a natural dreamer, by the way, and 
all his thoughts were fixed upon an ambition unlikely ever to be 
realized: that a circus should visit Cuiaba in his lifetime. He would 
have loved to see an elephant: So much meat! . . / 

And then there were two Frenchmen, the brothers B. Though 
Corsican by origin, they had lived in Cuiaba for a good many years: 
why, they didn t say. They spoke their mother-tongue with a distant, 
sing-song hesitation. They had been egret-hunters before turning to the 
garage trade; and they described their technique, which was to lay on 
the ground a series of cornets made of white paper. The egret, fascinated 
by a whiteness as dazzling as his own, would come down and thrust his 
beak into one of the cornets; thus blinded, he offered an easy prey, and 
during the mating season his beautiful feathers could be plucked out of 
the living flesh. Many a wardrobe in Cuiaba was full of soch feathers, 
for which there was no longer any demand. The two brothers then 
turned to diamond-hunting. Eventually they set up a garage and 
specialized in fitting out heavy lorries with merchandise, These they 
launched as once men launched galleons across uncharted seas; both 
lorry and cargo might end up at tie bottom of a ravine or a river, but 
there was also the possibility that they might get safely to their desti 
nation, in which case a profit of four hundred per cent would make 
up for earlier losses. 

I often travelled by lorry across the CuiaJ>a territory. On the day 
before departure we took on a special provision of petrol, bearing in 
mind that we needed enough for the entire journey from base back to 
base and that most of it would be covered in first or second gear. Next 
we packed our food, and our camping materials, in such a way that the 
passengers could take shelter in case of a rainstorm. On the inner walls 
of the lorry we hung all our jacks of tools, together with planks and 
rope to improvise a bridge where necessary. At dawn on the next day 
we climbed the cargo, as we might have climbed a camel, and took 

190 The Eororo 

our seats. The lorry began its quavering progress. By midday our 
difficulties had begun: the road was flooded or swampy and had to be 
paved with logs. I ve spent three whole days in that way: laying and re 
laying a floor of logs just twice the lorry s length until at last we were 
out of the wet. Or else we ran into sand and had to stuff leaves and 
branches under the wheels. Even where the bridges were intact we had 
to unload everything, before the lorry could be coaxed across the 
rickety structure, and then to reload on the far side. Where a bush- 
fire had destroyed the bridge we set up our camp and built another. 
But as we couldn t leave it there the planks were too precious we 
had to dismantle the whole structure before going on our way. Finally, 
we had to reckon with die major rivers: these could be crossed only on 
rude ferry-boats made up of three canoes laid side by side. The lorry, 
even unloaded, weighted these right down to the gunwale; and often 
we got to the other side only to find that the bank was too steep, or 
too muddy, for us to climb it. In such cases we had to improvise a 
road , sometimes for hundreds of yards, until we came to a better 
landing-point, or a ford. 

The men whose profession it was to drive these lorries were on the 
road for weeks and even for months on end. They worked in pairs; 
the driver and his assistant, the one at the wheel, the other on the 
running-board, looking out for trouble. They had always a carbine to 
hand, for often a tapir or a deer would pull up, intrigued rather than 
frightened, in their path. They would shoot on sight and, if the shot 
went well, they pulled up for the rest of the day. The prize had to be 
skinned, gutted, and cut up into thin strips of meat, much as one peels 
a potato in a spiral right through to the centre. These strips of meat 
were then rubbed with a mixture, kept always ready for this purpose, 
of pepper, salt, and crashed garlic. They were then laid in the sun for 
several hours, and on the following day, and for several days after, the 
process was repeated. The resulting came de sol was not so delicious as 
the carne de vento, which was dried on a tall stick in the wind, when sun 
was lacking; also it did not keep so long. 

These superb drivers led a strange existence: ready at any moment 
to carry out the most delicate repairs, and ready too to improvise the 
very road on which they were to drive, they sometimes had to stick 
it out for weeks on end in the bush at the point where their lorry came 
to grief. Eventually one of their rivals would pass that way and take 
the news to Cukba; and at Ctriaba they would order the missing part 
from Rio or Sao Paulo. Meanwhile the driver and his mate would 

Gold and Diamonds 191 

camp out, and hunt, and do their washing, and sleep it all ol and have 
patience. The best of my own drivers was a fegitive from justice; he 
never mentioned what he had done, but people in Qriaha knew of it. 
No one ever gave him away, however; when it rarg^ to a dangerous 
run he was irreplaceable, and by the daily venturing of his own he life 
was thought to have paid, and paid liberally, for the life he had takm. 

It was still dark when we left Cuiaba at four in the morning. The 
eye guessed at the churches, stucco-deo>rated over every inch of their 
height; the lorry bumped its way along the last streets, paved with 
pebbles and bordered with clipped mango-trees. The natural spacing 
of the trees gave the savannah an orchardy look, even when we were 
already well out in the bush, but before long the track became so rough 
as to leave us in no doubt that we had left civilization* behind. Up it 
climbed, above the river, winding along stony slopes with often a 
ravine or a muddy river-bed, overgrown with atpotira, to call for our 
attention. When we had climbed to a certain height we noticed a long 
thin pinkish shape on the horizon. It couldn t be the dawn, because it 
never varied in shape or texture, and yet for a long time we couldn t 
believe it was quite reaL But after some four hours on the road we 
cleared a rocky hillside and were confronted with a vaster, more 
explicit perspective; from north to south a red wall ran six to nine 
hundred feet above the green hills. To the north it gradually subsided 
into the flatlands; but towards the south, where we were approaching, 
certain details were discernible. What had previously seemed unbroken 
was seen to have subsidiary features; narrow platforms, jutting prows 
of rock, balconies. Redoubts and defiles diversified the long barrier of 
stone. It would take the lorry several hours to climb the ramp 
uncorrected, almost, by Man which ends at the upper edge of the 
chapada of the Mato Grosso and allows us to penetrate the six or seven 
hundred miles of plateau, the chapadSo, which runs very gently down 
towards the north and ends in the basin of the Amazon. 

A new world was revealed to us. Rough grass, milky-green in 
colour, never quite concealed the underlying sand, itself white, pinkish, 
or ochre, which had resulted from the superficial decomposition of the 
underlying sandstone. The vegetation consisted merely of a few 
scattered shrubs, knotted and gnarled, which were protected from the 
dry season, which lasts for seven months of tie year, by a thick bark, 
varnished leaves, and prickles. Yet a few days* rain could transform this 
desert of a savannah into a garden; the grass turned bright green and 
trees were soon covered with white and mauve flowers. But the 


dominant impression remained, one of immensity. So uniform is the 
texture of the country and so gradual its inclination that the horizon 
is pushed back for ten or twenty miles. You can motor for hours in 
a landscape that never changes; today s prospect and yesterday s are 
so alike, in fact, that memory and perception are blended in an 
obsession with immobility. Such is the uniformity of the scene, such 
the absence of landmarks, that one ends by mistaking the horizonr-line 
for doud as it hangs high up in the sky. Yet the scene is too fantastic to 
be called monotonous. From time to time the lorry traverses a water 
course whkh does not so much cross the plateau since it has no banks 
as inundate it at certain seasons of the year. It is as if this area 
one of the most ancient in the world: a still-intact fragment of the 
continent of Gondwana which, once united Brazil to Africa were still 
too young for its rivers to have had time to hollow out their beds. 

In European landscape it is die form which is exact and the light 
which is diffused. Here the traditional* roles of earth and sky are 
reversed; doods build up into forms of extreme extravagance, whereas 
the earth below remains milk-white and undefined. Shape and volume 
are die sky s prerogatives; the earth is formless and insubstantial. 

One evening we called a hak not fax from zgorimpo, or colony of 
diamofcidrimters. Before long shadowy figures appeared round our 
file; gmimpekos in rags who drew forth, little tubes of bamboo and 
emptied their contents into our hands: rough diamonds, these, which 
they hoped to sell to IB. But the B. brothers had told me a good deal 
about die ways of the gmmpo and I knew that there could be no 
question, in all tMs, of a bargain. For the^onrnpo has its unwritten laws 
and they are faithfully observed. 

These men divide up into two categories: adventurers and men en 
the run, The seooad group is the more numerous, and this is doubtless 
why defections from tfaegarimpo are few. Those who got there first* 
have control of the river-beds in which the work is done. As they have 
not resources enough to wait for the killing* & rarity, in any event 
they organize themselves in bands. Each of these is led by a sd- 
styled Captain* or Engineer*; this leader has to have enough capital 
to arm his men, equip them with the essentials of their trade iron 
sieve, wash-trough, diver s helmet, air-pump and, above all, feed 
diem regularly. In exchange his men undertake not to sell his finik 
except to authorized dealers (themselves working in association with 
the big Dutch or British diam<md-fions) and to share the proceeds with 
their leader. 

Gold and Diamonds jpj 

If they have to be armed, it is not only to ward off the menace of 
rival bands. Until quite lately, and sometimes even now, it was to keep 
the police at bay. The diamondr^zone formed, in fact, a state within the 
State, and the one was often at war with the other. In 1935 we constantly 
heard of the war waged by the Engineer Morbeck and his bravoes, the 
valentoes, against the State Police of the Mato Grosso. This had ended in 
a compromise. It must be said in defence of the rebels that tfazgarim- 
peiro who was taken prisoner by the police rarely reached Cuiaba alive. 
One famous leader, Captain Arnaldo, was captured with his second-in- 
command. They were tied by the neck at tie top of a tall tree, with 
their feet resting on a little board; and when they overbalanced from 
exhaustion they were left to hang. 

So stricdy are the laws* observed that at Lageado or Poxoreu, the 
centres of the garimpo, you can often see, in the inns, a table covered 
with diamonds that have been momentarily left behind by their 
owners. No sooner is a stone found than it is identified by its shape and 
colour and size. Such is the exactitude of these details, and such their 
emotional charge, that even years afterwards the lucky finder can 
distinguish each diamond from its fellows. "When I looked at it/ one 
of my visitors said to me, it was as if the Holy Virgin had dropped 
a tear into my hand . . . But the stones are not always so pure: 
often they are found in their atde and it s impossible to judge of 
their eventual value. The authorized buyer makes known his price 
(he is said to weigh* the diamond) and that price is final. Only 
when the grinder gets to work will the upshot of the speculation be 

I asked if people didn t try "to evade the regulations. *Of course. 
But it never works. A diamond offered to another buyer, or offered 
behind the leader s back, will be immediately burnt iquemado. That is 
to say that the buyer will offer a derisory price; and that price will 
get lower and lower with each subsequent attempt. So it is that the 
garimpeiro who tries to break the law can end by dying of hunger with 
a diamond in his hand. 

Once the diamonds are sold it s a very different matter. Fossa the 
Syrian is said to have grown rich by buying impure diamonds on the 
cheap, heating them on a Primus stove, and plunging them into a 
colour-bath; this gives the yellow diamond a more tempting surface 
and earns it the name of pintado, or painted diamond. 

Another form of fraud is practised at a higher level. At Cuiaba and 
at Campo Grande I knew of men who made a living by evading die 



duty on diamonds destined for export. These professional smugglers 
were full of stories: of the imitation packets of cigarettes, for instance, 
that they would toss casually into the bushes if the police caught up 
with them, and the anxiety with which they would go back to look 
for them as soon as they were free to do so. 

But that particular evening the talk around the camp-fire turned on 
the everyday hazards to which our visitors were exposed. I learnt, too, 
something of the picturesque language of the sertao. To render the 
English pronoun one, for instance, they have an immensely varied 
assortment of terms: o homem, the man; o camarada, the comrade; 
o colkga, the colleague; o negro, the negro; o tal, so-and-so; ofulano, the 
fellow; and so on. As bad luck would have it, someone had just found 
gold in his wash-trough. This augurs ill for the dkmond-hunter, whose 
only reaction is to throw it back into the river at once. (Weeks of ill 
fortune must otherwise follow.) Another hunter had been wounded by 
the tail of a poisonous skate. This was a hurt not easily cured, for he 
had to find a woman who would consent to undress and pass water on 
the wound. As the few women in the garimpo are nearly all peasant 
prostitutes this ingenuous remedy often brings in its train a particularly 
virulent form of syphilis. 

It s the legendary stroke of luck* that draws these women to the 
area. Hie prospector may become rich overnight; and, if he does, his 
police record will force htm to spend the money then and there. That s 
why the lorries lumber to and fro with their load of superfluous goods. 
Tlie moment the cargo arrives at thegmmpo it will be mapped up at no 
matter what price; not necessity, but the wish to show off, will be the 
motive, At first light, before we moved off, I called on a camarada in 
his Jitde hut on the edge of the insect-infested river, only to find that 
he was already at work in his old-fashioned diver s helmet, scraping 
away at the bed of the stream. The inside of the hut was as wretched and 
as depressing as its site; but the man s mistress showed me with prick 
his twelve suits of dothes and her own silk dresses: die termites were 
feeding well upon them. 

The night had been spent in ringing and make-believe. Each of 
those present was invited to do a turn: something remembered, in 
most cases, from a distant evening at die music-halls. I found the same 
practice on the Indian frontier when, minor officials met to dine 
together. In both cases monologues were welcome or caricatures , 
as they were called in Indian-imitations, that is to say, of the noise 
made by a typewriter, or a motor-cycle misfiring, or, by strange 

Gold and Diamonds 195 

contrast, a fairy-ballet and, in quick succession, a galloping horse. And, 
finally, a session of funny faces . 

I noted down, from this evening with the garimpeiros, some snatches 
of a traditional lament. It was the song of a private soldier who com 
plained to his corporal of the food served to him; the corporal passes 
on the complaint to the sergeant, the sergeant to the subaltern, and so 
on from subaltern to captain, major, colonel, general, emperor. . . . 
The emperor passes it on to Jesus Christ; and Jesus, instead of passing 
it to God the Father, takes up his pen and consigns the whole lot of 
them to hell. Here is a little sample of this song of the sertao: 

O Soldado . . . 
O Offerece . . . 

O Sargento que era um homem pertinente 
Pego na penna, escreveu pro seu tenente 

O Tenente que era homem muito bao 
Pego na penna, escreveu pro Capitao 

O Capitao que era homem dos melhor* 
Pego na penna, escriveu pro Major 

O Major que era homem como e 
Pega na penna, escreveu pro Corone* 

O Corone que era homem sem igual 
Pego na penna, escreveu pro General 

O General que era homem superior 
Pego na penna, escreveu pro Imperador 

O Imperador . . . 

Pego na penna,, escreveu pra Jesu* Christo 

Jesu* Christo que e filho de Padre Eterno 
Pego na penna et mando todos pros inferno 

Yet they hadn t really much heart for the fun. The sands had been 
yielding fewer and fewer diamonds for quite some time, and the area 

196 The Borne 

was infested with malaria, leshmaniosis, and ankylostomiasis. Yellow 
fever had begun to appear a year or two before. And where once four 
lorries had made the journey every week, there were now, at most, 
two or three a month. 

The road we were about to embark on had been abandoned when 
budt&es had destroyed all the bridges. It was three years since a 
lorry had ventured Jong it. No one knew at all in what state it 
could be; but if we got to Sao Louren^o we d be safe. There was a big 
garimpo on the river-bank, and we d find there everything we could 
wish for: provisions, men, and canoes to take us as far as the Bororo 
villages of the Rio Vermelho, which is a tributary of the Sao Louren9o. 

I really don t know how we got through. The journey remains in 
my mind like a confused nightmare; endless camping-out while we cut 
our way through a few troublesome yards, loading and unloading, and 
points at which we were so exhausted by having to lay the road, plank 
by plank and length by length, that we fell asleep on the bare ground, 
only to be woken in the middle of the night by a strange persistent 
muttering beneath us: that of the termites as they set about the siege of 
our clothes. Already they formed a compact, wriggling mass on the 
outside of the rubberized capes which served us both as raincoats and 
as Improvised rugp. But at last the morning came when we trundled 
downhill towards the Sao Louren^o, still thick with valley-mist. 
Convinced that we d accomplished a really extraordinary feat, we 
announced our arrival with repeated blasts on our horn. But not so 
much as a child came to meet us and all we could find on the river s 
edge were four or five deserted huts. Not a soul to be seen: and a rapid 
inspection satisfied us that the hamlet had been abandoned. 

Our nerves were in shreds after the efforts of the previous few days; 
we felt near to despair. Should we give the whole thing up? "We decided 
to make a last effort before turning back; each of us would start off in 
a different direction and explore the outskirts of the village. Towards 
evceing we returned empty-handed all save the driver, who had 
found a family of fisberfolk and brought back the head of the family 
with him. Bearded, and with the unhealthily white skin of someone 
who had been too long in the water, he told us that the yellow fever 
had come to the village some six months earlier. Those few who 
survived it had scattered; but if we made upstream we should find one 
or two people and an extra canoe. Would he come wilt us? Certainly: 
for months he and his family had lived entirely on fish from the river. 
The Indians would provide him with manioc and tobacco plants, and 

Gold and Diamonds 197 

we would give him a little money. On this understanding he would 
guarantee us a supplementary boatman; we could pick him op en route. 

I shall have occasion to describe other boat-trips that I remember 
better than the one in question. I shall therefore say only that it took us 
eight days to work our way upstream, the river being swollen by the 
rains. Once when we were lunching on a little sandbank we heard the 
rustling movement of a boa, seven yards long, that we had awakened 
with our talk. It took a lot of lead to kill it; for the boa cares nothing 
for body-wounds: the head alone is vulnerable. When we came to 
skin it it took us half a day we found a dozen little boas, already 
alive and on the point of being born. The sun killed them off. And 
then one day, just after we d shot an irara a sort of badger we saw 
two naked forms waving to us from the bank. These were our first 
Bororo. We tied up and tried to talk to them; all they knew, it seemed, 
was one word of Portuguese: j#mo tobacco which they pronounced 
5WW0 (didn t the old missionaries say that the Indians were sms/ai, 
sms hi, sans roi, because they could pronounce neither nor 1, nor r?). 
They were farmers themselves, in a small way, but their product had 
none of the concentration of the tobacco, fermented and rolled rope- 
wise, with which we kept them liberally supplied. We explained to 
them by gesture that we were making for thek village; they indicated 
that we should be there by nightfall, and that they would go on ahead 
to give warning of our arrival. They then disappeared in die forest 

Some hours later we pulled up at a bank of day at the top of which 
we had seen a few huts. We were welcomed with fits of laughter by a 
group of naked men, painted red with urucu from thek toenoails to 
the roots of thek hak. They helped us to disembark, grabbed hoM of 
our luggage, and conducted us to a large hut in which several femfe 
were living. There the chief of the village made over to us his own 
corner; and for the duration of our visit he went to live on Ae opposite 
bank of the riven 

19 The Good Savage 

Oo PROFOUND, and yet also so confused, are one s 
first impressions of a native village whose civilization has remained re 
latively intact that it is difficult to know in what order to set them down. 
Among the Kaingang and the same is true of the Caduveo extremes 
of poverty inspire in the traveller an initial weariness and discourage 
ment But Acre are societies so vividly alive, so faithful to their 
traditions, that their impact is disconcertingly strong, and one cannot 
tell which of the myriad threads which make up the skein is the one to 
follow. It was among the Bororo that I first encountered a problem 
of Ais sort; and when I think, bad: towards it I am reminded of my 
B&ost; recent experience of the kind. This was on the Burmese frontier; 
I had got to the top of a Ml in a Kuki village a climb that involved 
k>nr afia: hour of scrambling and hauling myself uphill, on slopes 
doomed into slippery mud by the unceasing monsoon-rains. I was ex- 
itaesfced, hungry, thirsty, and disturbed in mind, as well; and yet despite 
tibe giddiness that overcame my whole being I had a heightened sense 
of boda form and colour. I was vividly aware, for instance, of houses 
which, though flimsy, had a majesty of sheer scale about them. Their 
materials, and the uses to which they were put, were such as we 
encounter only in dwarfish state. For these houses were not so much 
built as knotted together, plaited, woven, embroidered, and given a 
patina by long use. Those who lived in them were not overwhelmed 
by great blocks of unyielding stone; these were houses that reacted 
immediately and with great flexibility to their presence, their every 
movement. The house was, in feet, subject to the householder, whereas 
with us the opposite is the case. Hie village served the villagers as a coat 
of light elastic armour; they wore it as a European woman wears her 
hats. It was an object of personal adornment on a mammoth scab, 
and those who built it had been clever enough to preserve something 

The Good Savage 199 

of the spontaneity of natural growth. Leafage and the sponging branch 
were combined, in short, with the exactions of a care&Uy planned 

The inhabitants seemed protected in their nakedness by die fioiKled 
velvet of the partitLoit-walls and the curtain-fall of the palms. And 
when they went forth from their houses it was as if they had jost 
slipped out of an enormous dressing-gown of ostridb-feathers* l^eir 
houses were caskets lined with down, it migjit have seemed, and their 
bodies the jewels within them. They were delicately built, those bodies, 
and their basic tonalities were heightened with fards. Hbese embeHist- 
ments were as if designed to set off ornaments yet more splendid: 
feathers and flowers that served as a background for the broad shining 
teeth or tusks of jungle animals. It was as if an entire civilization were 
reaching out in a passion of tenderness towards die "forms and tbe 
substances and the colours of life; as if it were striving to bedeck the 
human body with the richest essences of that life and had dbosen, from 
among all its manifestations, those which, whether lasting or fugacious, 
had that particular quality in the highest degree and were, in one or 
the other respect, its privileged depositories. 

As we proceeded to settle in* in the comer of the huge htitamt I 
did not so much take in these things as allow myself to be impregnated 
by them. Certain details fell into place. The ky-out and the dimensions 
of the huts were as they had always been, but their aniifjectme had 
already yielded to neo-Brazilian influences. They were no longer oval* 
but rectangular in shape; and although roof and walk were still mack 
of palm4eaves laid on a substructure of branches, the two dements 
were not distinct from one another and tiie rooC instead of being 
rounded, was in the shape of an inverted V and came down almost: tx> 
the ground. Yet the village of Kejara, where we had jest arrived 
(together with the two odbers which comprised tiie Rio Vermeiho 
group: Pobori and Jaradori), was OIK of the few in wtAdi die influence 
of the Salesian Fathers was not yet preponderant. Tliese weie die 
missionaries who, in collaboration with the Protaectiofn Service, had 
managed to put a stop to the conflicts betwieen settlers and Indians. 
They had also carnal out some admirable pieces of ethnographical 
field-work. (On the Bororo their work is, indeed, the best source 
available to us, after the earlier studies of Karl von der Steinen.) 
Unfortunately this went hand in hand with a systematic attempt to 
eadErminate the Indians* culture. 

Two things showed to what an extent Kejara was one of the last 

2OO The Bororo 

bastions of independence. It was, to begin with, the residence of the 
chief of all the Rio Vermelho villages. This haughty and enigmatic 
figure knew, or pretended to know, no Portuguese. Though attentive 
to our wants and curious as to the motives of our visit he never 
communicated with me directly. Considerations of prestige, as much as 
of language, enjoined him to negotiate through the members of the 
Council in whose company all his decisions were made. 

Secondly, there was at Kejara a native destined to act as my inter 
preter, and also as my principal informant. He was about thirty-five 
years old and spoke tolerable Portuguese. He claimed, in fact, that as 
a result of the missionaries* exertions he had once been able both to 
write and to read in Portuguese. The Fathers took such a pride in this 
that they had sent him to Rome, where he had been received by the 
Holy Father in person. Apparently they had wanted him, on his return, 
to get married according to the Christian rites and in disregard of the 
traditional practices of his tribe, This had led to a spiritual crisis from 
which he emerged reconverted to the ancient Bororo ideal; and he 
went to Kejara and had lived there, for the last ten or fifteen years, 
die life of a savage in every particular. Stark naked, painted scarlet, 
with his nose and lower Ep transpierced by nasal and lip-plugs, die 
Holy Father s be&athered Indian turned out to be a most remarkable 
exponent of Bororo sociology. 

Foe die moment we were surrounded by scores of Indians; laughter 
and horseplay broke out all around us as they discussed the news of our 
ajrrival. The Bororo are the tallest and die most finely built of all the 
Brazilian Indians* Tbey are roundheads, with elongated faces, regular, 
V%O^OIB features, and the bearing of athletes; they reminded me of 
certain Pafagoetan types and it may be that they have affinities with 
them from die racial point of view. The women as a rule are small and 
sickly, with irregular features; it is rare to find among them that bodily 
haoBcmy which distinguishes their men. The high spirits of the men 
contrasted from dhe very beginning with die more rebarbative attitude 
of die odier sex. The population seemed, on die whole, to be strikingly 
healthy in spite of tbe epidemics which had ravaged the region. There 
was, however, erne leper in tbe village. 

Tbe men were entirely naked, save for a litde straw sheath that 
covered die extremity of the penis. This was kept in position by die 
foreskin, which was stretched through an opening on the top of the 
sheath and bulged out over it. Most of them had painted themselves 
red from head to foot with unicu seeds mashed up with fat. Tliis was 

FIG. 27. Penis-sheath 

FIG. 28. Lip-ping and ear-rings 
of mother-of-pearl and 

applied even to their hair, which they wore either at shoulder-length 
or cut round at the level of their ears. All looked, therefore, as if they 
were wearing helmets. Other paintings were added to this scariet 
ground: a horseshoe pattern in shining black resin often covered the 
forehead and came down on either cheek to the level of the mouth. 
Sometimes strips of white down were stuck on to shoulders or arms; 
or micaceous powder together with pounded mother-of-pearl was 
rubbed into shoulders and chest. The women wore a belt of stiff bark 
round their waists, and this held in place a white strip of softer bark 
which passed between their legs. On top of these was a loincloth of 
cotton steeped in urucu, and across the dbest and over their shoulders 
they wore a double skein of finely plaited cotton. H^eir costume was 
completed by little bands of cotton, drawn ti^ht around ankles, wrists, 
and biceps. 

Gradually they all went away and we were left to share die hut, 
which measured forty feet by fifteen, with a sorcerer and his wife 
(silent and hostile, these two), and an old widow who lived on the 
charity of relations in huts nearby. Often they neglected her, and she 
would sing of her five husbands who had died, one after the other, and 
of the happy days when she lacked neither manioc, nor maize, nor fish, 
nor game. 

Outside men were beginning to sing. Their songs, heavily accented, 



The Boraro 

low, sonorous, and guttural in character, were sung in unison; the 
simple tunes, their continual repetition, the alternation of solo and 
ensemble, and the virile and tragic style of the whole proceedings put 
me in mind of the warrior-songs of some Germanic Mannerbund. Why 
were they singing these songs? Because of the irara, I was told. We had 
brought game with us and before it could be eaten an elaborate ritual 
had to be gone through. The spirit of the irara had to be placated, for 
one thing, and the chase itself consecrated. Too exhausted to behave as 
a good anthropologist should, I dropped off at nightfall into an uneasy 
sleep and did not wake again till dawn. Much the same happened every 
evening while we were there; the nights were given over to the life 
of religion and the natives slept from dawn till noonday. 

The ritual demanded the intervention, at certain moments, of wind 
instruments; but as a rule die voices were accompanied only by the 
rattling of calabashes filled with pebbles. It was marvellous to hear what 
could be done with them: sometimes they would abruptly arrest, or as 
abruptly unleash, the singers in their singing; sometimes they would 
fill in a silence with a long-held crescendo or decrescendo; and some 
times, again, they gave the lead to their dancers by alternations of sound 
and sikace so varied in their duration, quality, and intensity that not 
evea oar star conductors could have asked for a more flexible or a 
more responsive instrument. It s not surprising that in former times the 
natives of other tribes and even the missionaries were convinced that 
the devil himself was speaking to the Indians through this music. Hie 
traditional beliefs in the sound-language of the drum have turned out 
to be unfounded, but it seems probable that among certain peoples at 
any rate there did really exist a codified sound-language of an extremely 
simplified and symbolical sort. 

I got up at daybreak to make a tour of the village; and as I went out 
of the door I stumbled over a pathetic huddle of disfeathered birds. 
These were the domesticated araras which the Indians make pets, the 
better to pluck out the feathers from the living bird, thus equipping 
themselves with the raw material of their coiffures. The naked and 
grounded birds were like chickens ready for the spit, with beaks all 
die more enormous for the loss of half the body behind them. On the 
roofs other araras were solemnly perching; but these had new-grown 
feathers and looked like heraldic emblems enamelled with gules and 

I was in the middle of a clearing bordered on one side by the river 
and tapering off, on the otters, into the forest; gardens lay hidden on 

The Good Savage 203 

the very edge of the forest and in the distance, between the trees, I 
could glimpse a backdoth of hills patched with red sandstone. The 
circumference of the clearing was marked out by huts twenty-six in 
all identical with my own. They were arranged in a circle, and in die 
centre was a hut at least sixty feet long and twenty-five feet wide: 
much larger, that is to say, than the others. This was the \Mfaemrnnago 
or men s house. The unmarried men all slept there and in the daytime, 
when they were not out hunting or fishing, or engaged in some public 
ceremony on the dancing-ground, all the men of the tribe codkl be 
found there. (The dancing-ground was a large oval space immediately 
to the west of the bachelors house.) Women were strictly forbidden to 
enter the baitemannageo; the perimeter huts were their domain and the 
men would go back and forth several times a day along the path 
through the brushwood which led from their club to their conjugal 
hearth. Seen from the top of a tree, or from a roof, the Bororo village 
looked like a cart-wheel, with the bachelors* house as the hub, the 
established paths as the spokes, and the family huts to make up the rim. 

The dividing line between 

the moieties, 
The dividing Itnebetween the 

upstream ami downstream 


FIG. 29. Plan of Kejara village 

204 The 

All the villages were laid out in this way at one time, except that 
their populations were much higher than they usually are today. (At 
Kejara there were a mere one hundred and fifty, for instance.) Conse 
quently the family houses were laid not in one but in several concentric 
circles. These circular villages can be found, with certain local varia 
tions, among all the tribes of the Ge linguistic group, which occupy the 
plateau of central Brazil between die Araguaya and the Sao Francisco 
rivers. The Bororo are probably the southernmost representatives of 
this group. But we know that their nearest neighbours to the north, 
the Cayapo, who live on the right bank of the Rio dos Mortes, build 
their villages in the same way, as do also the Apinaye, the Sherente, and 

So vital to the social and religious life of the tribe is this circular 
lay-out that the Salesian missionaries soon realized that the surest way 
of converting the Bororo was to make them abandon their village and 
move to one in which the huts were laid out in parallel rows. Tliey 
would then be, in every sense,, dis-oriented. All feeling for thek 
traditions would desert them, as if their social and religious systems 
(these were inseparable, t as we shall see) were so complex that they 
could not exist without the schema made visible in their grouni-plans 
. and reaffirmed to them in the daily rhythm of their lives. 

To this extent we can absolve the Salesian Fathers: they took 
infinite trouble to understand this difficult cultural structure and to 
preserve the recollection of it. Anyone who works among the Bororo 
must first master what the Fathers have to say about them. But at the 
same time it was urgently necessary that someone should measure their 
findings against conclusions drawn in regions where missionaries had 
not yet penetrated, and where the system was still in force. Guided, 
therefore, by what had already been published, I tried to get my 
iaibrmants o analyse the structure of their village. We spent our days 
going from house* to house, counting heads, noting the status of each 
inhabitant, and mytnng out on the sand of the clearing the ideal 
boundaries of the elaborate networks^ which corresponded respectively 
to privilege, tradition, hierarchical status, rights, and duties. I shall 
simplify my account of all this by adapting the compass, as it were, to 
my immediate purposes; for the natives do not set the points of the 
compass as precisely as do our geographers. 

The circular village of Kejara lies at a tangent to the left bank of the 
Rio Vermdho. The river flows rougbly from east to west. The popula 
tion is divided into two groups by a line that cuts straight across the 

The Good Savage 205 

vilkge and in theory runs parallel to the river. Those to the north are 
the Cera; those to the south, the Tugare. It seems, though it s not 
absolutely certain, that the first name means weak* and the second one 
strong*. Be that as it may, the division is fundamental for two reasons: 
one, that each individual belongs indissolubly to the same group as his 
mother; and the other, that he is compelled to marry a member of the 
other group. If my mother is Cera, I too am Cera, and my wife must 
be Tugare. 

The women live in, and inherit, the house in which they are born. 
When he marries, therefore, a male Bororo crosses the clearing, steps 
over the ideal frontier which separates one moiety from the other, and 
goes to live on the other side. The men s house lies partly in one 
moiety, partly in the other, and to this extent breaks the 611*, as it were. 
But the rules of residence ky down that the door which gives on to 
Cera territory shall be called the Tugare door , and vice versa. Men only 
may use them, of course, and all those who live in the one sector were 
born in the other. 

The married man never feels c at home in his wife s house. His* 
house, the one where he was born, and the one he remembers from 
childhood, lies on the other side of the village. His mother and his 
sisters, and now his brothers-inJaw, live there. But he can go back 
there whenever he likes and be assured of a warm welcome. And when 
the atmosphere of his wife s house becomes oppressive when his 
brothers-in-law come visiting, for instance he can always go and 
sleep in the men s house. There he will find much to remind him of his 
adolescence. The atmosphere is one of masculine camaraderie, and die 
religious environment not so strong as to prevent an occasional flirtation 
with unmarried girls. 

Hie function of the moieties goes far beyond marriage. Rights and 
duties relate directly to the other moiety, since some must be enjoyed 
with its help, and others carnal out to its benefit. The funeral rites of 
a Cera, for instance, are performed by a Tugare, and vice versa. The 
two moieties are partners, in short, and all social or religious under 
takings involve the participation of an opposite number , whose role 
is complementary to one s own. The element of rivalry is not excluded, 
however: each moiety takes a pride in itself and on occasion is jealous 
of the other. It s rather as if. two football teams, instead of trying to 
defeat one another; were to vie with each other in demonstrations 
of generosity. 

A second diameter ran from north to south, at right angles to the 

206 The Bororo 

first. AH those bom east of this line were upstreamers ; all those born 
west of it, yownstreamers . We therefore have four sections, as well as 
two moieties, and both Cera and Tugare are subdivided. Unfortunately 
no observer has as yet fathomed the role of this second diameter. 

Tfac population is also divided into clans. These are groups of 
families which consider themselves to be related through the female line 
by descent from a common ancestor. This ancestor is mythological in 
character and sometimes nobody knows who he is. Let us therefore say 
that the members of the clan recognize one another by the fact that 
they bear the same name. It is probable that at one time there were 
right dans in all four for the Cera and four for the Tugare. But since 
then, some dans have died out and others have subdivided. The 
empirical situation is therefore considerably confused. It remains true, 
in any case, that the members of a clan, with the exception of its 
married men, all live either in the same hut or in huts adjacent to one 
another. Bach clan has therefore its own place in the cirde of huts and 
will be either Cera or Tugar, upstream or downstream, or yet further 
subdivided, should the second diameter happen to pass through the 
hutments of the rlan in question. 

Yet anodber complication: each dan indudes hereditary sub-groups 
wlridb also descend through the female line. Each dan has, in fact, its 
Ved* families and its black* families* Formerly, too, each dan was 
divided into three dasses: higher, middle, and lower. This may be a 
reflection, or a transposition, of the hierarchized castes of the Mbaya- 
Caduveo; I shall come back to that point. What makes this hypothesis 
plausible is the fact that these dasses seem to have been endogamous: 
a higher person could only marry another higher person (from the 
other moiety), and so on. We can only surmise in these matters: such 
is the total collapse, demographically speaking, of the Bororo villages. 
Now that they have only a hundred or at most two hundred 
inhabitants, as against a thousand or more in former times, many 
categories are perforce unrepresented. Only the rule of die moieties 
is strictly respected, and even there certain upper-class clans may be 
exempted; for the rest, the Indians improvise as best they can when 
faced with unforeseen situations. 

The dan system constitutes, beyond a doubt, the most impor 
tant of the divisions in which Bororo society seems to take pleasure. 
In the general system of marriages between one moiety and tie other 
the dans were formerly united by special affinities: one of the Cera 
dans allying itsd by preference, with a particular Tugare clan, and 

. 30. 

Wooden dub 
used in fishing 

Hg. 31. Bows decorated with 
rings of bark in the 
fashion characteristic 
of the owner s dart 

vice versa. The rlam also varied in their social standing. The chief of 
the village was always chosen from a particular Cera dan, and the title 
went in the female line from the maternal uncle to his aster s son. There 
were rich dans and poor* dans. In what, though, did these differences 
of wealth consist? 

Our conception of wealth is primarily economic; modest as is the 
Bororo s standard of life, there are some who live better than their 
fellows. Some are better at hunting or fishing: others, more lucky or 
harder working. One or two people at Kejara had the beginnings of 
professional status. One man, for instance, was an expert at the mating 


208 The Bar or o 

of stcme-|K>!ishers; these he exchanged for food, and he seemed to make 
a comfortable living. Yet these differences remained individual: 
ephemeral, that is to say. The only exception to this was the chief, who 
received tokens of homage from all the dans, in the form of food and 
manufactures. But as each gift entailed a subsequent obligation, he was 
in the situation of a banker: wealth passed through his hands, but he 
could never call it his own. My collections of religious objects were 
built up in return for presents which the chief would at once redistribute 
among the dans, thus conserving his balance of payments intact. 

Wealth of status, as between one clan and another, is quite another 
matter. Each dan has a capital of myths, traditions, dances, and 
functions, either social or religious. The myths are, in their turn, at the 
bottom of the technical privileges which are one of the most curious 
features of Bororo culture. Almost all Bororo objects are emblazoned 
in such a way that the owner s dan and sub-dan may be identified. The 
privilege lies in the use of certain feathers, or colours of feathers; in the 
way in which an object is carved or cut; in the disposition of feathers 
differing in colour, or species; in the execution of certain decorative 
work: fibre-jplaMng, for instance, or feather-mosaics; in the use of 
particular patterns, and so on. 

Ceremonial bows, for instance, are embellished with feathers, or 
with rings of bark, according to the canons prescribed for each dan. 
The arrow bears at its base, between the feathering, which keeps it 
straight, a specific ornamentation. The pieces of mother-of-pearl out 
of which the lip-plugs are made are worked in designs: oval, rec 
tangular, or pistifonn, according to the dan, Fringes vary in colour. 
And the feathered diadems worn during the dance bear a mark of the 
same sort: generally a strip of wood covered with a feather-mosaic. 
On festive occasions even the penis-sheath goes into regalia and is 
equipped with a ribbon of stiff straw decorated or cut out with the 
colour and the emblem of the dan. 

These privileges (they may be bought and sold, by the way) are 
the object of watdiful, not to say quiet-tempered supervision. It s 
inconceivable, people say, that one clan should usurp the prerogatives 
of another; civil war would result. But from this point of view the 
differences between the dam are enormous; some live in luxury, some 
in squalor; a glance at the interior of the huts will prove this, The 
distinction is not so much between rich* and poor* as between 
bumpkins and sophisticates. 

The material equipment of the Bororo is marked by simplicity on 

FIG. 32. Arrow shafts bearing clan ornamentation between the feathering 


FIG. 33* Emblazoned penis-sheaths 


210 The Bororo 

the one hand and a rare perfection of execution on the other. The 
tools remain archaic in style, despite the axes and knives which were 
given out at one time by the Protection Service. For heavy work the 
Indians use metal tools; but they still carve and polish the clubs with 
which they kill off their fish, their wooden bows, and their delicately 
barbed arrows. For work such as this they have a traditional tool, half 
adze and half burin, which they use on all occasions, as we would use a 
pocket-tnife. It consists of one of the curved incisors of the capivara, a 
rodent which lives near the river-banks, tied sideways-on to a stick of 
wood. Apart from the plaited mats and baskets, the weapons and tools 
made from bone or wood of the men, and the digging-stick of the 
women who work in the fields, there s not much to be seen in the huts. 
A few calabashes; some black pots, bowls and shallow basins, with 
sometimes a long handle, ladle-wise. These objects have a great purity 
of form, and this purity is underlined by the austerity of their com 
ponent materials. One strange thing: it seems that Bororo pottery used 
to be decorated, and that in relatively recent times this was forbidden 
on religious grounds. Perhaps it is for the same reason that the Indians 
no longer carry out rupestral paintings such as may still be found 
in rock-protected shelters of the chapada: yet these paintings contain 
many elements taken from Bororo culture. To make quite sure of 
this I once asked them to decorate for me a large sheet of white paper. 
A native set to work with a paste made of urucu and some resin; and 
although the Bororo have forgotten when they used to paint those 
rocky walls, and indeed no longer frequent the escarpments where they 
are to be seen, the picture which he made for me was an almost exact 
version, on a smaller scale, of one of them. 

Austere they may be, where their household objects are concerned; 
but when it comes to dress or rather to the accessories of dress which 
are their entire wardrobe the Bororo give free rein to fancy. To 
luxury, too: for the women own caskets of jewels and pass them 
on from mother to daughter: necklaces of monkeys teeth or jaguars 
fangs mounted on wood and delicately held in place with strings. 
These are relics of the chase; but they also allow their husbands to pluck 
the hair from their temples, and with these hairs the husbands 
weave long ropes of hair that they wear wound round their heads like 
a turban. The men also wear, on fete-days, crescent-shaped pendants 
made up of a pair of daws taken from the big armadillo that monster 
burrower, at times more than a yard in length, which has changed 
hardly at all since the tertiary era and embellished with incrustations 

FIG. 34. Black pottery bowl 

FIG. 36. Crescmt-shaped pendant 
decorated with jaguar 

RG. 35. Two examples, 
one single and 
one double, of a 
Bororo pocket- 

RG. 37. Impro"yised ornaments: 
painted crowns of 
dried straw 

212 The Bororo 

of mother-of-pearl, or a fringe of feathers or cotton. Or there may be 
seen a toucan s beak fastened to a feathered stalk; egrets by the 
handful; the long tail-feathers of the arara, stuck into bamboo-stalks 
covered with white down: all these ornament the chignon, natural 
or made-up, like hairpins devised to balance, at the rear, a diadem of 
feathers on the brow. Sometimes these two features are combined in a 
composite head-dress which takes hours to set in place. I got one for 
the Musee de 1 Homme in Paris in exchange for a rifle, after negotiations 
that went on for eight days. It was indispensable to their rituals, and 
only after they had assembled a duplicate collection of the feathers 
involved would they consent to sell. It consists of a fen-shaped diadem; 
a feathered visor that covers the upper part of the face; a taU cylindrical 
crown that encircles the head, and is made up of harpy-eagle feathers 
on sticks; and a basketwork plaque into which is stuck a whole bushfol 
of tall stalks topped with feathers and down. The ensemble is six feet 
in height. 

Such is the Bororo s love of display ornament that the men are 
always improvising ornaments for themselves even when they are not 
in ceremonial dress. Many wear crowns: bandeaux of fur embellished 
with feathers; circlets of basketworfc, again with feathers inserted; 
coronets of jaguars daws mounted on a circle of wood. But they are 
pleased with the simplest things: a ribbon of dried straw, picked up off 
the ground, hastily painted and pulled into shape, will give delight 
enough, as a head-dress, until some other fantasy takes its place. Some 
times trees are stripped of their flowers to this end. A piece of bark and 
a feather or two will be quite enough to give these tireless man- 
milliners the elements of a pair of sensational ear-rings. Enter the men s 
house and you will see how hard these virile giants work to make 
themselves beautiful: in every corner someone is at work with knife or 
chisel or burin; shells from the river are taken to pieces and polished 
on millstones to make necklaces; fantastic constructions of feathers and 
bamboo are in process of creation. These are men built like stevedores; 
but no dressmaker could better the application with which they stick 
down on to one another s skins and finish up looking like day-old 

But the men s house is not only a workshop. Adolescents sleep in it; 
and when there is no work to be done the married men go there for 
siestas, or to talk things over and smoke the big cigarettes that they roll 
in a dried leaf of maize. They also take some of their meals there; for a 
minutely organized system of obligations compels all the clans in turn 

The Good Savage 213 

to serve in the baitemannageo. Every two hours or so one of the men 
goes over to his family hut and fetches a bowl of the dish, made from 
boiled maize, which is called mingau* Great shouts of joy greet his 
arrival: Au, au! resounds through the silence of the day. Ceremony 
requires him to invite a group of six or eight of his fellows to partake 
of the dish; this they proceed to do, with ladles made of pottery or 
shells. Women are forbidden, as I said earlier, to enter the men s house, 
Married women, that is to say: for unmarried girls take good care not 
to go too near it; they know too well that if they stray too near, either 
from inadvertence or from the wish to provoke, the men may dart out 
and rape them. And, once in each woman s life, she must enter the 
men s house of her own free will: in order to propose* to her future 

20 The Living and the Dead 



LHE baitemannageo is many things in one: workshop, 
dub, dormitory, maison de passe, and, finally, temple. There it is that 
the religious dancers make themselves ready and that certain ceremonies 
are held, out of sight of the women of the village: the construction and 
whirling of the bull-roarers, likewise. These bull-roarers are musical 
instruments, made of wood and richly painted. They have the outline 
of a long flat fish and their length varies between one and five feet. 
"When they are made to wheel round on the end of a length of rope 
they make a sort of low roaring noise hence their name; this noise is 
attributed to the visiting spirits of whom the women are supposed to 
be terrified. Any woman who sees a bull-roarer is ill-fated; even today, 
as like as not, she will be clubbed to death. When I first watched them 
in process of construction I was assured that they were cooking 
utensils. The natives* extreme reluctance to let me have a few of them 
to keep was explained not so much by the work that would have to be 
done over again as by fear that I might betray their secret. I had to take 
one of my kit-cases to the men s house under cover of darkness; the 
bull-roarers, already wrapped and parcelled, were laid inside and the 
case shut and locked; I had to promise not to open it till I got to 

There is something almost scandalous, to a European observer, in 
the ease with which the (as it seems to us) almost incompatible activities 
of the men s house are harmonized. Few peoples are as deeply religious 
as the Bororo; few have so elaborate a system of metaphysics. But their 
spiritual beliefs and their habits of every day are so intimately mingled 
that they seem not to have any sensation of passing from one to the 
other. I met with the same artless religiosity in the Buddhist temples 
of the Bunnan frontier, where the bonzes live and sleep in the room in 
which their services are held, with their pots of pomade and the 


The Living and the Dead 

contents of their medicine-chest kid out at 
the foot of the altar; nor did they disdain to 
caress their pupils in the interval between 
two lessons in the alphabet. 

This nonchalance with regard to the 
supernatural was the more surprising to me 
in that my only contact with religion goes 
back to a stage in my childhood at which 
I was already an unbeliever. During the 
First "World War I lived with my grand 
father, who was the rabbi of Versailles, 
His house stood next to the synagogue and 
was linked to it by a long inner corridor. 
Even to set foot in that corridor was 
an awesome experience; it formed an im 
passable frontier between the profane world 
and that other world from which was 
lacking precisely that human warmth 
which was the indispensable condition to 
my recognizing it as sacred. Except at the 
hours of service the synagogue was empty; 
desolation seemed natural to it, and its 
brief spells of occupation were neither 
sustained enough nor fervent enough to 
overcome this. They seemed merely an 
incongruous disturbance. Our private re 
ligious observances suffered from the same 
offhand quality. Only my grandfather s 
silent prayer before each meal reminded 
us children that our lives were governed 
by a higher order of things. (That, and a 
printed message which hung on a long 
strip of paper in the dining-room: *Chew 
Your Food Properly: Your Digestion De 
pends On it. ) 

It was not that religion had more 
prestige among theBororo: on the contrary, 
it was taken for granted. In the men s house 
people went through the motions of re 
ligious observance in a consummately casual 


FIG. 38. A bnE-roarer 

216 The Bororo 

manner, as if tkey were actions performed for a specific purpose; there 
was none of that attitude of respect which comes over even the 
unbeliever when he enters a sanctuary. That afternoon they were sing 
ing in the men s house, in preparation for the evening s rites, which 
were to be held in public. In one corner boys were snoring or chatting; 
two or three men were intoning to the accompaniment of rattles. But 
if one of those men wanted to light a native cigarette, or if it was his 
turn to dig into the maize gruel, he would either pass his instrument 
to a neighbour, who would take over where he had left off, or go on 
with one hand, while scratching himself with the other. If one dancer 
paraded round to show off his latest creation, everyone would stop 
whatever he was doing and give his opinion. The service seemed to 
have been forgotten until suddenly in another corner the incantation 
would begin again where it had been left off. 

And yet the men s house has a significance over and above that of 
its being, as I have described, the centre of the social and religious life 
of the village. The lay-out of the village does not only allow full and 
delicate play to the institutional system; it summarizes and provides a 
basis for the relationship between Man and the Universe, between 
Society and the Supernatural, and between the living and the dead. 

Before going into this new aspect of Bororo culture, I must say 
something in parenthesis about relations between the dead and the 
living. Without this, it would be difficult to grasp the particular 
character of die solution which Bororo thought has applied to this 
universal problem a solution remarkably similar to that which may 
be found at die other extreme of the western hemisphere, among the 
inhabitants of the forests and prairies of north-eastern North America: 
the Opbwa, for instance, and the Menomini, and the Winnebago, 

There is probably no such thing as a society which does not treat 
its dead with consideration. At a time when mankind as we know it 
had hardly come into being, Neanderthal Man already buried his dead 
in tombs made up of a few rough stones. No doubt funerary practices 
vary from one group to another. Can we say that these variations are 
negligible, in relation to die unvarying sentiment which underlies 
them? Even when we simplify, as far as we possibly can, the respective 
attitudes maintained in this matter by one society or another, we still 
have to acknowledge one great distinction: two poles, that is to say, 
linked by a whole series of intermediary positions. 

Certain societies leave their dead in peace. In return for periodical 
acts of homage the dead, in such cases, give the living no trouble. If 

The Living and the Dead 217 

they come back to take a look at them, it is at foreseeable intervals and 
on the foreseeable occasions, And their visits bring only good: the 
punctual movement of the seasons, fertility in gardens and in women 
all are guaranteed by the dead. It is as if tie dead and the living had 
made a pact together: in return for certain sober marts of attachment 
the dead will remain where they are, and in such momentary encounters 
as may take place the interest of the living will always be pet first. 
One of the universal themes of folklore puts this formula very well: the 
so-called motif of the grateful dead . A rich hero buys back a dead 
body from creditors who had refused to allow it to be buried, and gives 
it formal burial. The dead man then appears to his benefactor in a 
dream and promises him success, on condition that the benefits resulting 
from this are shared equally between the two of them. And, sure 
enough, the hero soon wins the love of a princess, whom he manages, 
with the help of his supernatural protector, to rescue from one danger 
after another. Is he to share her favours with the dead man? Tte 
princess lies under a spell and is half woman, half serpent. The dead 
man claims his share, the hero keeps to their bargain, and the dead man, 
well pleased with this loyal observance, takes for himself the bewitched 
half of the princess, leaving the hero with a wife entirely human. 

As antithesis to that notion, we have another theme from folklore: 
the enterprising knight , as I like to call it. This time the hero is not 
rich, but poor. His only possession is a grain of corn which he manages, 
such is his cleverness, to exchange for a cock, in the first place, and 
later for a pig, an ox, and finally a dead body, which he barters for a 
live princess. Here the dead body is rather object than subject: no 
longer a partner to be negotiated with, it is an instrument to be played 
upon in a speculation in which untruths and swindling are involved. 
Certain societies maintain an attitude of this sort towards their dead. 
They do not allow them to rest, but rather conscript them: literally at 
times, when cannibalism and necrophagy are based upon the wish to 
annex for oneself the merits and capacities of the dead; and also 
symbolically, in societies where competitive prestige plays a great part 
and the peoples concerned must continually, as it were, summon the 
dead to their rescue. Evocation of their ancestors and artful genealogies 
are two of the means by which they try to justify their prerogatives. 
Such societies feel themselves particularly harassed by the dead whom 
they exploit. They think that the dead pay them back in kind for 
their persecution: ever more exacting and irascible, the dead get their 
own back on those of the living who aim to profit by them. But, 

The Bororo 

whether it is a matter of fair shares , as in my first example, or of 
unbridled speculation, as in the second, the relation is never, and 
cannot be, one-sided* 

Between the two extremes are a number of intermediary positions, 
lie Indians on the west coast of Canada and the Melanesians summon 
all their ancestors to appear in ceremonies in which they bear witness 
in favour of their descendants; in certain ancestor-cults, in China or 
Africa, the dead keep their personal identity but for a few generations 
only; among the Pueblos, in the south-west of the U.S.A., they 
immediately lose their identities but share out among themselves a 
certain number of specialized functions. Even in Europe, where the dead 
have become anonymous and lost all character, folklore still preserves 
certain vestiges of a quite different eventuality in the belief that there 
are two different kinds of dead person: those borne off by natural 
causes , who form a corps of protective ancestors, and those who died 
by their own hand, or were murdered or magicked away; the latter 
turn into jealous and maleficent spirits. 

If we confine ourselves to the evolution of western civilization, there 
is no doubt that we tended less and less to speculate on the dead, 
and more and more to enter into contractual agreement with them. 
Eventually this gave place to an indifference foreshadowed, perhaps, in 
the New Testament phrase: Let the dead bury their dead. But there 
is no reason to suppose that this evolution corresponds to any universal 
pattern. It would seem, rather, that all societies have a certain obscure 
awareness of both possible formulas. No matter towards which of the 
two they incline, they will always take superstitious precautions against 
the possible validity of the other as do we ourselves, whatever the 
faith, or lack of faith, which we profess. The originality of the Bororo, 
and of the other peoples whom I have cited as samples, lies in their 
having clearly formulated both possibilities and built up a system of 
ritual and belief applicable both to the one and to the other: machinery, 
that is to say, with the aid of which they can pass to and firo in the hope 
of a twofold conciliation. 

I should express myself imperfectly if I were to say that there is no 
such thing, for the Bororo, as natural death. A man is not, for them, an 
individual, but a person. He is part of a sociological universe: the village 
which exists for all eternity, side by side with the physical universe, 
itself composed of other animate beings; celestial bodies and meteoro 
logical phenomena. Nor is this affected by the fact that the village itself 
rarely remains more than thirty years in any one place, so rapidly is the 

The Living and the Dead 219 

soil brought to the point of exhaustion. The village does not, in feet, 
consist either of the land on which it stands, or of the huts which 
comprise it at any one time; it consists in the lay-out which I have 
described above. And this lay-out never varies, That is why, in putting 
a stop to it, the missionaries destroyed an entire culture. 

As for the animals, some belong to the world of men birds and 
fish, above all and some, as in the case of certain terrestrial animals, to 
the physical universe. The Bororo consider, therefore, that their human 
shape is transitory: midway between that of the fish (whose name they 
have adopted for themselves) and the arara (in whose guise they will 
complete the cycle of their transmigrations). 

If the Bororos* thought like that of the anthropologist is 
dominated by the fundamental opposition between Nature and culture, 
it follows that they go beyond even Durfcheim and Comte and con 
sider that human life should itself be regarded as a department of 
culture. To say, therefore, that death is either natural or unnatural is 
meaningless. In feet and law alike, death is both natural and anti-cultural. 
That is to say that, whenever a native dies, an injury is done not only 
to those near to him, but to Society as a whole; and Nature, in conse 
quence, is held to be in debt to Society. It is, in fact, as a debt that we 
may best interpret the notion, essential to the Bororo, of the mm. 
"When a native dies, the village organizes a collective hunt, incumbent 
on the moiety of which the dead man was not a member. The object 
of this expedition is to make Nature pay her debt; the natives hope, by 
killing some sizable creature a jaguar, for preference to bring home 
a skin, and a set of teeth and nails, which will constitute the dead man s 

A man had just died wfam I arrived in Kejara but, unluckily, he 
had died some way away, in another village. I could not, therefore, 
witness the double burial ceremony: first, the body is put in a ditch, 
covered with branches, in the middle of the village, and then, when 
putrefaction has been completed, the bones are washed in the river. 
Next, they are painted and ornamented with feather-mosaics stuck on 
with glue and, finally, they are sent down in a basket to die bottom of 
a lake or a running stream. All the other ceremonies at which I was 
present were in strict traditional style, inclusive of the ritual scarification 
of the relatives at the place where the provisional tomb had had to be 
dug. I was also unlucky in that the collective hunt had taken place 
either the day before, or on the afternoon o my arrival, so that I 
could not witness it. Nothing had been killed, in any case, and an old 

220 The Bororo 

jaguar-skin was brought into service for the funeral dances. I even 
suspect that our irara was commandeered to take the place of the 
missing prey. They would never tell me if this was the case and 
morels the pity: for, had it really been so, I could have claimed for 
myself the role of the uiaddo, or chief huntsman and representative of 
the dead man, His Emily would have presented me with an armband 
of human hair and a jwori, or mystic clarinet: this was made up of a 
little befeathered calabash which served as amplifier to the bamboo 
reed-pipe on which the huntsman would play when the kill had been 
completed; and, later, it would be attached to the skin. I should have 
shared out, as I was bound to do, the meat, the hide, the teeth, and the 
nails among die dead man s relatives; and they would have given me 
in exchange a ceremonial bow and arrows, another clarinet in com 
memoration of my services in the field, and a necklace of flat discs made 
from shells. I should also, no doubt, have had to paint myself black in 
order to escape the notice of the evil spirit which had been responsible 
for the man s death. By the rules of the man, this spirit would be 
incarnate in the animal I should set out to kill; and, although it had to 
offer itself by way of compensation for the harm it had done, it would 
be filled with a vindictive hatred for its executioner. For, in a sense, 
the Bororo*s murderous Nature is human and operates through the 
intermediary of a special category of souls, answerable direcdy to her 
and not to Society. 

As I said above, I was sharing a sorcerer s hut. The bari formed a 
special category of human beings and did not belong completely 
either to the physical universe or to the world of Society; their role was 
rather to mediate between these two estates. It is possible, though not 
certain, that they were all born in the Tugare moiety; mine certafcly 
was, since our hut was Cera and he lived, as was the rule, with his wife. 
A man becomes a bari by vocation. Often this follows upon a revelation 
whose central motif is a pact concluded with certain members of a very 
complex collectivity of evil, or perhaps mfcrely formidable, spirits. 
These are in part celestial (and in control, therefore, of the phenomena 
of astronomy and meteorology), in part animal, and in part subter 
ranean. Their numbers are continually increasing, as the souls of dead 
sorcerers arrive to swell the ranks: and they have in their charge the 
operation of the solar system, the wind and the rain, sickness and 
death. Their appearance varies, but is in every case terrifying: matted 
with hair, some say, and with holes in their heads from which tobacco- 
fiimes emerge when they smoke; monsters of the air with immensely 

. 39 

The Living and the Dead 221 

long nails and rain pouring from 
their eyes, nostrils, and hair; one- 
legged creatures with huge bellies 
and the soft and downy body of 
a bat. 

The ban is asocial. By reason 
of his personal links with one or 
more spirits, he is a privileged being: 
when he goes out hunting by him 
self, for instance, supernatural help 
is forthcoming; he can turn himself 
into an animal at will; he has the 
gift of prophecy and knows the 
secrets of disease. Neither an animal 
killed in the chase, nor the first 
fruits of a garden, can be eaten till 
he has had his share. This last is the 
mori owed by the living to the spirits 
of the dead. Its role in the system is, 
therefore, symmetrical with, and the 
obverse of, that of the funerary hunt 
which I have described. 

But the ban is also under the 
dominion of one or more guardian 

spirits. They make use of him for their own incarnation; at soch times 
the fcori, with the spirit, as it were, in the saddle above him, is subject 
to trances and convulsions. In return for his guardianship the spirit 
watches the bans every movement; he is the true proprietor, not merely 
of the sorcerer s possessions, but of his very body. For every broken 
arrow, every broken pot, every fingernail, or lock of hair not accounted 
for, the sorcerer is answerable to the spirit, As none of these things may 
be destroyed or thrown away, the ban drags along behind him the 
debris of all his past existence. The old adage about the quick and the 
dead here takes on an unexpected and terrible significance; for, between 
the spirit and the sorcerer, the bond is of so jealous a nature that one 
can never be quite sure which of the two partners is, in the end, the 
master, and which the servant. 

Clearly, therefore, for the Bororo the physical universe consists in 
a complex hierarchy of individualized powers. Their personal nature 
is directly manifested; but this is not the case with their other attributes, 

Ceremonial ear 
rings made of 
pieces of motfaer- 
o&pearl fastened 
to strips of bark, 
and trimmed 
with feathers 

222 The Bororo 

for these powers are at once beings and things, living and dead. In 
Society, tie sorcerer is the intermediary between mankind and the 
equivocal universe of evil spirits who are at one and the same time 
persons and objects. 

The sociological universe has characteristics quite different from 
those of the physical universe. The spirits of ordinary men (those, I 
mean, who are not sorcerers) do not identify themselves with the 
forces of Nature, but form a society, as it were, of their own; but, 
conversely, they lose their personal identity and merge in that collective 
being, the aroe, a term which, like the ancient Bretons anaon, should 
doubtless be translated as the souls* society . This society is, in point of 
fact, twofold, since the souls are divided after the funeral ceremonies 
into two villages, of which one is in the east and the other in the west. 
Over these villages stand guard, respectively, the two great hero- 
divinities of the Bororo Pantheon: in the west, the older of the two, 
Bakororo, and in the east the younger, Itubore. This east-west axis 
corresponds, by the way, to the course of the Rio Vermelho. It is 
therefore probable that there is a relation, as yet unillumined, between 
the duality of the villages of the dead and the secondary division of the 
village itself into an upstream and a downstream moiety. 

The Sari serves, therefore, as intermediary between human society 
and the evil spirits, individual or cosmologicaL (The spirits of the dead 
ban are both at once, as we have seen.) There is also another mediator 
one who presides over relations between the society of the living and 
the society of the dead (this last being beneficent, collective, and 
anthropomorphic). This is the araettowaraare, or Master of the spirits* 
road . His distinguishing marks are the opposite of the tan s. He and 
the kari hate and fear one another, what is more. The Road Master is not 
entitled to receive offerings, but he must keep strictly to certain rules: 
there are things that he must not eat, and he must be very quiedy 
dressed. All ornament, all brightly coloured clothing, is forbidden him, 
Nor is there any pact between him and the spirits, and these are always 
present to him and, in a sense, immanent. Instead of taking possession of 
him when he is in a trance, they appear to him in dreams; if he calk 
upon them from time to time, it is always to someone else s advantage. 

If the ban has the gift of foreseeing illness and death, the Master is 
both nurse and healer. It is said, by the way, that the ban, as the 
embodiment of physical necessity, is always ready to confirm his 
prognostications by killing off any invalid who is too slow to realize 
his grim predictions. But it must be noted here that the Bororo do not 

The Living and the Dead 223 

share our conception of the relation between life and death. Someone 
said to me one day, of a woman who was lying in a high fever in the 
corner of her hut: She s dead* meaning that they had given up her 
case as hopeless. And, after all, this is not so different from our army s 
way of lumping together dead and wounded under the single heading 
of casualties . As far as immediate effectiveness goes, they are indeed 
one and the same, even if, from the wounded man s point of view, 
there is an undeniable advantage in not being among the dead. 

The Master can, like the bari, turn himself into an animal at will. But 
he never turns himself into a man-eating jaguar, symbol (until he is 
killed in his turn) of the power of the dead to exact their mori from the 

FIG. 40, Bororo paintings of cult objects 

living. The Master chooses, rather, one of the provider-creatures: die 
fruit-picking aura, the fish-catching harpy-eagle, or the tapir, on whose 
flesh the whole tribe can feast. The ban is possessed by its spirits; die 
aroettowaraare sacrifices himself for die salvation of mankind. Even the 
revelation which makes him aware of his mission has its painful side; 
he recognizes it, initially, by the dreadful stench which follows him 
everywhere. This stench recalls, no doubt, the smell which hangs over 
the village at the time when a dead body is given provisional burial at 
grounds-level, in the middle of the dance-area; but at die moment of 
revelation it is associated with a mystical being, die mje. The aije is a 
mythical monster of die aquatic deep, repellent, evil-smelling, and 
affectionate: it appears before the budding aroettowaraare and forces 
Viim to endure its caresses. The scene is mimed, during die funeral 
ceremony, by young men daubed wida mud who throw dieir arms 

FIG. 41 . Bororo painting of an officiant, 
trumpets, a rattle, and various 

round the fancy-dressed impersonator of the young spirit. The natives 
have so clear an idea of die mje that they can even paint his portrait; 
and they give it the same name as is given to the bult-roarer, whose 
humming announces the emergence of the animal and imitates its cries. 
And so it is not surprising that the fiineral ceremonies go on for 
several weeks. Their functions, many and various, are situated on the 
two planes which we have just distinguished. Seen from an individual 
point of view, every day is the pretext for negotiations between 
Society and the physical universe. The hostile forces which compose 
the physical universe have done harm to Society, and that harm must 
somehow be put right: that is the role of the funerary hunt. Once die 
dead man has been at once avenged and redeemed by the hunters, as a 
group, he must be admitted to the society of spirits. That is the function 
of the rowfamluo, the great fimeral dirge which I was about to have die 
good fortune to hear. 


The Living and the Dead 225 

In a Bororo vilkge, one moment in the day has a particular 
importance: the evening roll-call. As soon as night falls a great fire is 
lit on the dancing-place, and the chiefs of the clam assemble there. A 
herald calls out in a loud voice to each group: Radedjeb&> the chiefs; 
O Cera, those of the ibis; Ki, those of the tapir; Bokod&ri, those of the 
big tattoo; Bakoro (from the name of the hero Bakororo); Boro, those 
of the lip-plugs; Ewaguddu, those of the buriti-palm; Arore, those of the 
caterpillar; Paiwe y those of the hedgehog; Apibore (a word whose 
meaning is uncertain). ... As and when each group arrives, the orders 
for the morrow are made known to them, still in a tone of voice that 
can be heard even in the most distant huts in the village or would be, 
if those huts were not by now more or less empty. As the mosquitoes 
vanish with the last of the light, the men all move away from the 
family houses, whither they had returned towards six in the evening. 
Each has under his arm the mat that he will spread out on the beaten 
earth of the dance-plaza that lies to the west of the men s house. There 
they stretch themselves out, wrapped in a cotton blanket died orange 
by long contact with bodies stained with urucu; the Service de 
Protection would hardly recognize in these blankets one of its bene 
factions to the region. There are also larger mats, on which five or six 
men can lie together, occasionally exchanging a word or two. Some 
are quite on their own, and amble about among the prostrate bodies of 
their fellows. As the roll-call proceeds, the head of one family after 
another will rise to his feet in answer to his name, receive his orders, 
and once again lie down, face upwards towards the stars. The women, 
too, have left their huts, and stand in groups on the threshold. Conr- 
versation dies down and gradually, led at first by two or three officiants 
and growing even greater in volume as more and more people arrive, 
we begin to hear, first from the depths of the men s house and 
eventually on the plaza itself die songs, recitatives, and choruses which 
will continue all night. 

The dead man was a member of the Cera moiety; the Tugare 
officiated, therefore, at his funeraL In the centre of the square, branches 
had been strewn to stand in for the tomb itself! These are flanked to 
right and to left by raised bundles of arrows, before which bowls of 
food had been set out. Priests and singers numbered about a dozen, and 
most of them had on a large diadem of brilliantly coloured feathers 
(others wore this on their buttocks), with, on their shoulders, a rec 
tangular wickerwork fan, kept in place by a thin cord round their 
necks. Some were entirely naked and painted either in red (all over 

226 The Bororo 

or striped) or in black, or else covered with long thin strips of white 
down; others wore a long straw skirt. The main character, whose role 
it was to personify the young spirit, had a change of costume to suit 
the various stages of the action. Sometimes he appeared dad in fresh 
green leaves, wearing on his head the enormous diadem I described 
above, and carrying, like a ceremonial train, a jaguar-skin; this last was 
held up behind him by a page. On other occasions he was naked and 
painted black, with no ornament but what looked like a huge pair 
of glassless straw spectacles round his eyes. This detail is especially 
interesting in that it is analogous to the motif by which Tlaloc, the rairt- 
god of ancient Mexico, may be recognized. Perhaps the Pueblo Indians 
of Arizona and New Mexico hold the key to the mystery, for the 
spirits of their dead turn into the gods of rain; and they also have 
certain beliefs relating to magical objects which protect the eyes and 
allow their possessor to become invisible at will. I have often noticed 
that spectacles exert a great fascination among South American 
Indians so much so that on my last expedition I took along a great 
quantity of glassless spectacle-frames. These had a great success among 
the Nainhikwara as if their traditional belief made them particularly 
welcome. We had had no record of straw spectacle-frames among the 
Bororo* bet as Hack paint is said to render the wearer invisible, it may 
well be that spectacles do the same as they do, for that matter, in 
Pueblo mythology. And, finally, the butarico (the spirits responsible for 
rain among the Bororo) are described as having the same redoubtable 
aspect hooked hands and great fangs as the Maya goddess of water. 
During the first few nights we witnessed, one after another, the 
dances of the Tugare clans; Ew&ddo, those of the palm-tree, and P^iii^e, 
those of the hedgehogs. In both cases the dancers were covered with 
leaves from head to foot and, as their heads were invisible, we took 
them to be higher than they really were on the level, in fact, of the 
feathered diadem which stood up in so imposing a fashion that we 
involuntarily took the dancers to be enormously tail In their hands 
they held palm-stems or sticks ornamented with leaves. There were 
two sorts of dances. In the one, the performers came on alone divided 
into two quadrilles which faced one another at the two extremities of 
the square, ran towards one another with cries of Ho, ho! and 
whirled round and round each other until they were facing the opposite 
way from which they had come. Later, women would weave in among 
die men dancers, and the dance became an interminable farandofe 
which formed up, moving forward or simply marking time, led by 

The Living and the Dead 227 

naked coryphees who walked backwards, waving their rattles, while 
other men squatted on the ground and sang. 

Three days later the ceremonies were interrupted, so that Act IE, 
the mariddo dance, could be got ready. Teams of men went off into the 
forest, returning with armfuls of green palms: these were stripped of 
their leaves and the stems were cut into sticks, each about a foot in 
length. With crude ropes of plaited foliage these were roughly tied 
together, in bundles of two or three, to form the steps of a flexible 
kdder several yards in length. Two such ladders were made, of dif 
ferent lengths; and they were then rolled up to form two wheeWike 
shapes. Each stood on its narrow breadth, and they rose to a height of 

FIG. 42. Diadem of yellow and blue arara 
feathers carrying flan 

roughly five feet in the one case and four in the other. Hie sides were 
then decorated with a network of foliage, held together with thin 
ropes of plaited hair. The two objects, when complete, were solemnly 
taken to the middle of the square and put down side by side. These 
were the mariddos, male and female, whose construction was the 
responsibility of the Ewaguddu dan. 

Towards evening two groups, each of five or six men, made off 
respectively to east and to west. I followed the first group to the point, 
some fifty yards distant, at which I could watch them at their prep 
arations. Hidden from the public by a screen of trees, they were 
covering themselves with leaves, like dancers, and fitting their diadems 
in place. But on this occasion secrecy was essential to their role: like 

Z2& The Bororo 

the other group, they represented the spirits of the dead who had come 
from their villages in, respectively, the west and the east to welcome 
the new addition to their number. When all was ready they headed, 
whistling, towards the square, where the eastern group was already in 
position (the westerners had come upstream , in symbolical terms, so 
that it was natural for them to take longer than those who had come 
^downstream* from the east). 

Their hesitant and fearful bearing was admirably descriptive of the 
plight of the shades; I thought of how, in Homer, Ulysses strives to 
keep hold of the phantoms conjured up by blood. But all at once the 
ceremony became more lively: men seized one of other of the mariMos 
(all the heavier, these, for being made up of fresh-cut branches), 
hoisted them at arm s length, and danced beneath them until they 
dropped from exhaustion, leaving the mmddo for some rival to 
continue the dance. Hie scene lost its initial, mystical character and 
became a fairground on which the young men of the village showed 
off tiieir muscles in an environment of sweat, horseplay, and crude 
joking. The sport is one that recurs among certain related peoples in a 
purely profane sense in, for instance, the log-races of the Ge on the 
Brazilian plateau; but among the Bororo it still retains its full religious 
significance; the hilarious and disorderly scene is one in which the 
native really feels that he is playing with the dead and wresting from 
them the right to go on being alive. 

Ttiis opposition the living against the dead is expressed, in the 
first place, by the division of the villagers, throughout the ceremonies, 
into participants and spectators. But the real participants are the men, 
protected as they are by the secrecies of the communal house. The lay 
out of the village must, therefore, have a significance even deeper than 
that which we ascribed to it on the sociological level. When a villager 
dies, each half takes it in turn to play the living, or the dead, in relation 
to the other. But this game of poise and counterpoise mirrors another, 
in which the roles have been distributed once and for all; for the men 
who have grown up in the baitemanm^eo symbolize the society of 
spirits, whereas from the huts all around, which belong to the women 
(who have no part in the most sacred of the rites and are, therefore, 
predestined spectators), is drawn the audience of the living. 

We have observed already that the supernatural world is itself 
twofold, since it includes both the domain of the priest and the domain 
of the magician. The magician is the master of the celestial and 
terrestrial powers, from the tenth heaven (the Bororo believe in a 

The Living and the Dead 229 

plurality of heavens, each superimposed upon the other) down to the 
depths of the earth. The forces he controls and on which he depends 
are, therefore, disposed along a vertical axis; whereas the priest, 
Master of the spirits* road, presides over the horizontal axis which unites 
east and west, where the two villages of the dead are ituated. Bat 
much goes to show that the bari is invariably Tugar6 in origin, and the 
araettowaraare Cera; this suggests that the division into halves is also 
expressive of this duality. It is a striking feet that all the Bororo myths 
present the Tugare heroes as creators and demiurges and the Cera 
heroes as men of peace and organization. The Tugare heroes are 
answerable for the existence of things: water, rivers, fish, vegetation, 
manufactured objects. The Cera heroes have put creation in order, 
delivering the human race from monsters and assigning to each animal 
its specific nourishment. One myth even tells how the supreme power 
once belonged to the Tugare, who voluntarily made it over to the Cera 
as if the antithesis of the moieties was intended to symbolize, in 
native thought, the passage from an unbridled Nature to an ordered 

This explains the apparent paradox by which the Tugare are known 
as the strong , while the Cera, though the repository of political and 
religious power, are known as the weak . The Tugar6 stand closer to 
the physical universe, and Cera to the human universe: and the latter 
is not the more powerful of the two. Social order cannot cheat the 
hierarchy of the cosmos and get away with it. Even among the Bororo, 
Nature can be vanquished only if we recognize her authority and 
allow her fatalities their true role. A sociological system such as theirs 
allows them, in any case, no choice: a man can never belong to the same 
moiety as either his father or his son, since it is to his mother s side that 
he owes allegiance: only with his grandfather and grandson is he again 
at one in the matter of moieties. If the Cera should wish to justify their 
power by claiming an exclusive affinity with the founder-heroes, they 
set themselves, in so doing, at a further distance of one whole gen 
eration becoming, in effect, the heroes* grandsons , whereas the 
Tugar6 would become their sons*. 

But to what extent are the natives bemused by the logic of their 
system? I cannot, after all, dismiss the feeling that the dazzling meta 
physical cotillon which I witnessed can be reduced, in the end, to 
a rather gruesome farce. The men s brotherhood claimed to be im 
personating the dead in order that the living should have the illusion 
of a visit from the spirits; the women were excluded from the rites and 

230 The Bororo 

deceived as to their tree nature doubtless to sanction the division of 
rights by which they take priority, where housing and birth rights are 
in question, leaving the mysteries of religion to their men. But their 
credulity, whether presumed or authentic, has also a psychological 
function: that of giving, for the benefit of both sexes, an affective and 
intellectual content to fantasy-figures which might otherwise be 
altogether less meaningfully manipulated. If we bring up our children 
to believe in Father Christmas, it is not simply because we want to 
mislead them: it is also because their enthusiasm gives ourselves fresh 
warmth. Through them, we contrive to deceive ourselves also, and to 
believe, as they believe, that a world of unqualified generosity is not 
absolutely incompatible with reality. And yet men die, and die never to 
return; and all forms of social order draw us nearer to death, in so much 
as they take something away from us and give back nothing in 

For the moralist, Bororo society has one particular lesson. Let him 
Bsfcen to his native informers: they will describe to him, as they des 
cribed to me, the ballet in which the two halves of the village set them 
selves to live and breathe in and for one another; exchanging women, 
goocls, and service in a kind of shared passion for reciprocity; inter 
marrying their children; burying one another s dead; offering each 
other gmrantees that life is eternal, that human beings help one another, 
and that Society is based on justice. To bear witness to these truths, and 
back them up in their convictions, the wise men of the tribe have 
evolved a grandiose cosmology which is writ large in the lay-out of 
their villages and distribution of their homes. When they met with 
contradictions, those contradictions were cut across again and again. 
Every opposition was rebutted in favour of another. Groups were 
divided and redivided, both vertically and horizontally, until their 
lives, both spiritual and temporal, became an escutcheon in which 
symmetry and asymmetry were in equiKbrium just as they are in 
the drawings with which a Caduveo beauty, equally though less 
explicitly a prey to the same preoccupations, will ornament her face. 
But what remains of all that, what is left of the moieties and the 
counter-moieties, the clans and the sub-dans, when we draw the 
conclusions which seem to proceed inevitably from certain recent 
observations? In a society whose complexities seem to spring from a 
(Might in complication for its own sake, each dan is subdivided into 
three groups: upper, middle, and lower. One regulation takes prece 
dence over all others: that an upper* should marry another upper*, a 

The Living and the Dead 23 1 

middle another middle*, and a lower another lower*. Despite, that is 
to say, all the appearances of institutionalized brotherhood, the Bororo 
village is made up in the last analysis of three groups, each of which 
always marries within its own numbers. Three societies which, all 
unknowingly, remain for ever distinct and isolated, each imprisoned 
within its own vainglory, dissimulated even from its own self by 

Diagram of the classic 

arrangement oF the 

Bororo village 



The actual 

FIG. 43 . Diagram showing the real and apparent social structure of the 

Bororo village 

misleading institutions; with the result that each of the three is the 
unwitting victim of artificialities whose purpose it can no longer 
discover. Try as the Bororo may to bring their system to full flowering 
with the aid of a deceptive prosopopoeia, they will be unable, as other 
societies have also been unable, to smother this truth: that the 
imagery with which a society pictures to itself the relations between 
the dead and the living can always be broken down in terms of an 
attempt to hide, embellish or justify, on the religious level, the 
relations prevailing, in that society among the living. 


The Nambikwara 

21 The Lost World 


IN ANTHROPOLOGICAL expedition to central 
Brazil was being got into shape at the intersection of the Rue R6aumur 
and the Boulevard de SebastopoL There it is that the wholesalers of the 
dress-and-clothing trade congregate; and there, if anywhere, that we 
could find goods acceptable to the fastidious Indians. 

A year had passed since my visit to the Bororo; and, during that 
year, all the conditions required to make an anthropologist of me had 
been fulfilled. Levy-Bruhl, Mauss, and Rivet had given me their 
blessing even if only after the event; my collections had been shown 
in an art gallery in the Rue du Faubourg St Honore; I had lectured and 
written articles. Thanks to Henri Laugier, who presided over the 
youthful destinies of the department of scientific research, I had been 
accorded funds for a more ambitious venture. It remained for me to 
assemble my equipment; my three months intimacy with the natives 
had taught me to know their needs, and those needs were much the 
same amazingly so, in feet from one end of the South American 
continent to the other. 

And so, beset by Czech importers, in a part of Paris as unfamiliar 
to me as die Amazon itself, I began my strange negotiations. Knowing 
nothing of their afiairs, I was not even able to explain what I wanted. 
All I could do was to apply the Indians* own criteria. I picked out, for 
instance, the smallest of the embroidery pearls ( pebbles was their 
name in the trade) which, strung together in heavy ropes, filled rack 
upon rack. I tried to break them between my teeth, to test their 
strength; I sucked them to see if they were coloured all the way through 
and would not turn transparent after their first dip in the river; I 
bought in quantities which varied according to the Indian colour- 
canon: equal amounts of black and white, to begin with; red, next; 
yellow, in much smaller amounts; and merely token quantities of the 


236 The Nambikwara 

colours -blue and green which the Indians would, as like as not, 
disdain altogether. 

These preferences are perfectly comprehensible. When the Indians 
make their own pearls, and do it by hand, they set the highest value 
upon those which involve the most, and the most skilled, work: the 
smallest, that is to say. As raw material they use the black rind of the 
palm-nut and milky, mother-o-pearly shells from the river-bed; they 
enjoy playing off the one against the other. Like everyone else, they 
like best what they already know: I should be most successful, therefore, 
with my blacks and my whites. Red and yellow often fell, for the 
Indians, into one and the same category: such is the result of using 
urucu dyes which vary, according to the quality of the seeds and the 
degree of their development, between vermilion and a yellowy-orange, 
red predominates, none the less, by reason of an intensity which certain 
seeds and certain feathers have long made familiar to the Indians. As 
for blue and green, these are comparatively cold colours, iUustrated in 
Nature by short-lived vegetable substances; hence the Indians in 
difference towards them and, what is more, the indifference of their 
language to nuances of blue, which is seen rather as a department of 
black, in some regions, and of green, in others. 

My needles had to be large enough to admit a good stout thread, 
yet not so large as to prevent the threading of tiny pearls. The thread 
itself had to be strong in colour, preferably red (the Indians dye theirs 
with urucu), and made up with a good firm twist to give it a look of 
hand-made craftsmanship. Generally speaking I was wary of junk 
jewellery and gewgaws; the Bororo had taught me a profound respect 
for native techniques. Life in the bush soon shows up any shortcomings 
of quality; and if I was not to lose face, paradoxical as this may seem, I 
had to offer the natives the finest-quality steels, glass coloured throughand 
through, and thread worthy of the Queen of England s saddle-maker. 

Sometimes I fell upon wholesalers who delighted in the special 
problems of my mission and were ready to adapt their special know 
ledges to its exoticism. I remember a fish-hook maker near the Canal 
Saint-Martin who let me have all his remnants at a bargain price: for a 
whole year I tramped the bush with bundle after bundle of these hooks, 
but nobody would take them on they were too small and too fine for 
any fish worthy of the Amazonian angler. In the end I got rid of them 
on the Bolivian frontier. All my purchases had to serve a double 
function: on the one hand, I needed to barter with, or, on occasion, to 
give them away to, the Indians; and on the other I used them to buy 

The Lost World 237 

myself goods or services in distant regions where white traders rarely 
or never penetrated. At the end of the expedition, when I had spent all 
my money, I kept going for several weeks by opening a shop in a 
hamlet of rubber-gatherers. The local prostitutes would exchange 
and not without bargaining one of my necklaces for two eggs. 

I planned to spend a whole year in the bush, and had hesitated for 
a long time as to where, and for what reason, I was to go. In the 
end, with no notion that the result would be quite contrary to my 
intentions, and being anxious rather to understand the American 
continent as a whole than to deepen niy knowledge of human nature by 
studying one particular case, I decided to examine the whole breadth of 
Brazil, both ethnographically and geographically, by traversing the 
western part of the plateau, from Cuiaba to Rio Madeira. Till quite 
recently, this was the least-explored part of the country. Hie Paulist 
explorers of the eighteenth century got hardly any farther than Cuiaba, 
so discouraging were the desolation of the landscape and the hostility 
of the Indians. Even at the start of the twentieth century the thousand 
miles between Cuiaba and the Amazon were still forbidden ground 
so much so that, in order to go from Cuiaba to Manaus or Belem, on 
the Amazon, the simplest method was to go by way of Rio de Janeiro 
and continue northwards by sea, or up the estuary of the Amazon- Only 
in 1907 did General (then Colonel) Candido Mariano da Silva Rondon 
begin to penetrate the area; and it took him eight years, first to explore 
the region, and second to establish the strategically important telegraph 
wire that for the time established a link between Cuiaba, the federal 
capital, and the frontier posts to the north-west. 

From the reports of the Rondon Commission (not yet published in 
full, by the way); from some of the General s lectures; from the recol 
lections of Theodore Roosevelt, who accompanied the General on one 
of his expeditions; and from a delightful book, Rondonia? published in 
1912 by the late Roquette-Pinto, who at the time was Director of the 
National Museum, I had gleaned certain summary indications about 
the very primitive peoples who had been discovered in the region. But 
since then, and for a long time, die ancient curse seemed to have fallen 
once again upon the plateau. Not one professional anthropologist had 
penetrated it. I was much tempted to follow the telegraph line, or what 
remained of it, and in so doing to try to find out exactly who were the 
Nambikwara and who, too, were those enigmatic peoples, farther to 
the north, whom no one had seen since Rondon had left a bare mention 
of their existence. 

238 The Nambikwara 

Interest had centred hitherto on the tribes along the coast, and those 
who lived in the great river-valleys which were the traditional high 
roads into the Brazilian interior. By 1939, however, the Indians of the 
plateau were already a subject for speculation. My own experience of 
the Bororo had persuaded me that, on both the religious and the 
sociological levels, tribes sometimes dismissed as primitive were often, 
on the contrary, possessed of an exceptional degree of refinement. 
People had become aware of the researches then being made by a 
German anthropologist, now dead, called Kurt Unkel: Unkel had taken 
the native name of Nimuendaju and, after spending some years in the 
Ge villages of central Brazil, had confirmed that the Bororo were not 
an isolated phenomenon, but rather a variation upon a theme fun 
damental to, and shared with, a number of other peoples. The 
savannahs of central Brazil were occupied, therefore, to a depth of 
nearly fourteen hundred miles by the survivors of a remarkably homo 
geneous culture. The marks of this culture were a language diversified 
by a number of interrelated dialects and a relatively low standard of 
living: in contrast to this latter, social organization and religious 
thought had attained a high level of development. Surely these were 
the original inhabitants of Brazil peoples either forgotten in the 
depths of the bush or driven back into inhospitable country, not long 
before the discovery of Brazil, by more warlike tribes who had come 
from no one knows where to appropriate for themselves the coast 
line and the river-valleys? 

In the sixteenth century travellers encountered, along more or less 
the whole length of the coast, representatives of the great Tupi- 
guarani culture. These were in occupation of almost all Paraguay, and 
of the Amazon from source to sea. Their territories comprised, that is 
to say, a broken ring, two thousand miles in diameter, which the area 
between Paraguay and Bolivia interrupted hardly at all. These Tupi, 
who had certain obscure affinities with the Aztecs the very group 
who had belatedly taken possession of the Mexico valley these Tupi 
were themselves newcomers: in the valleys of the Brazilian interior 
they did not, for instance, complete their occupation until the nine 
teenth century. Possibly they had begun their dispersal, several cen 
turies before the discovery of Brazil, in the belief that somewhere on 
earth there was a country where death and evil did not exist* Such 
was still their conviction at the end of their migrations when, in the 
last years of the nineteenth century, little groups of them appeared on 
the Sao Paulo littoral, guided by their sorcerers, dancing, singing the 

The Lost World 239 

praises of the land where death was unknown, and fasting for long 
periods to make themselves worthy of it. In the sixteenth century, in 
any case, they were engaged in bitter struggles for the possession of the 
coast; we know litde of their opponents, die former occupants of the 
area, but they may have been those we know as the Ge. 

To the north-west of Brazil the Tupi co-existed with other peoples: 
the Caraibes or Caribs, who ended by conquering the Antilles. 
Though different from them in their language, they were very similar 
in their culture. There were also the Arawaks, a rather mysterious 
people. Older, and of greater refinement than the other two, they 
formed the majority of the population of the Antilles and had spread 
as far as Florida. Though unlike the Ge in that they enjoyed a high 
degree of material culture notable in pottery and wood-^ulpture 
they were not unequal to them in the complexity of their social 
organization. Caribs and Arawaks seemed to have penetrated the 
continent much earlier than the Tupi: already in the sixteenth century 
they were massed in the Guianas, in the estuary of the Amazon, and 
in the Antilles. But small colonies may still be found in the interior, on 
certain tributaries of the right bank of the Amazon: the Xingu and 
the Guapore. The Arawaks even have descendants in upper Bolivia. It 
was probably they who brought the art of ceramics to the Mbaya- 
Caduveo, since the Guana (who, as the reader will remember, were 
reduced to slavery by the Mbaya-Caduveo) spoke an Arawak dialect. 

By traversing the least-known part of the plateau, I hoped to find 
in the savannah die most westerly representatives of the Ge group; and, 
once in the Madeira basin, I hoped to be able to study the unpublished 
vestiges of the three other linguistic families on the borders of their 
great highroad into the interior: the Amazfrn. 

If these hopes were only partly realized, it was because of our 
over-simplified view of pre^-Colombian history in America. Today, 
in the light of recent discoveries, and thanks, as far as I myself am 
concerned, to years spent in the study of North American ethnography, 
I realize that the western hemisphere must be considered as a whole. Hie 
social organization and religious beliefs of the Ge correspond curiously 
to those found in the forests and prairies of North America, just as the 
analogies between the tribes of the Chaco, such as the Guaicuru, and 
those of the plains of Canada and the U.S.A. have long been evident, 
even if no conclusion was drawn from them. The civilizations of 
Mexico and Peru were certainly in touch with one another, at many 
moments in their history, through "the intermediary of rafts plying 

240 The Nambikwara 

along the Pacific coasts. All this had not been much examined, because 
American studies were dominated for a very long time by the 
conviction that only recently (ie. five thousand or six thousand years 
before Christ) had America first been penetrated. That penetration was 
attributed entirely, what is more, to Asiatic peoples who had made 
their way in by way of the Bering Strait. 

The fact had therefore to be explained away that somehow, in the 
course of a very few thousand years, these nomads had established 
themselves from one end to the other of the western hemisphere: 
adapting themselves perfectly to its wide varieties of climate and 
discovering, developing, and distributing over immense areas of land 
the wild plants which turned, in their hands, into tobacco, beans, 
manioc, sweet potatoes, potatoes, ground-nuts, cotton, and, above all, 
maize. Successive civilizations had to be accounted for: in Mexico, 
central America, and the Andes there were born and brought to 
maturity the civilizations of which Aztecs, Mayas, and Incas were but 
the distant descendants. All this called for a kind of historical marquetry 
in which every new development had to fall neatly into place, a mere 
century or two after its predecessor. Pre-Colombian history in America 
became a succession of kaleidoscopic images in which the whims of the 
theoretician would summon forth, instant by instant, an entirely new 
picture. It was as if those who specialized in the subject were bent on 
imposing on primitive America that shallowness which characterizes 
the history of the New World in modern times. 

All this was knocked sideways, or rather backwards, by discoveries 
which proved that Man had, in point of feet, penetrated the American 
continent very much earlier than had been supposed. We know that 
Man knew of, and hunted, animals now extinct in America sloth, 
mammoth, camel, an archaic form of bison, and the antelope whose 
bones have been found side by side with his stone weapons and 
instruments. That some of these animals should have been found in, 
for instance, the Mexico valley is proof that the climate there was once 
very different from what it is now. Such a change can only take place 
over a period of many thousands of years. Similar results have been 
given when radio-activity has been used to determine the antiquity of 
archaeological remains. We have therefore to admit that men lived in 
America at least twenty thousand years ago; in certain regions maize 
was cultivated more than three thousand years ago. Over more or 
less the whole of North America remains dating from fifteen to twenty 
thousand years ago have been found. And, by measuring the residual 

The Lost World 


radio-activity of the carbon in the earliest known archaeological 
remains of the American continent, we have been able to back-date 
those remains between five and fifteen hundred years. Like those 
Japanese flowers, made out of flat paper, which open out when put in 
water, pre-Colombian history acquired overnight that volume in time 
which it had hitherto lacked. 

And yet . . . we are faced with a difficulty just the opposite of that 
with which our predecessors had to wrestle. How are we to furnish 
these enormous areas of time? We realize that the migrations which I 
mention above exist on the surface of the truth, and that something 
must have preceded the great civilizations of Mexico and the Andes. 

FIGS. 44-45. People of ancient Mexico, on the left from the south-east 
(American Museum of Natural History), on the right from 
the Gulf coast (Exposition d Art Mexkaio, 1952) 

Already in Peru, and in many parts of North America, vestiges of the 
first inhabitants have come to light: tribes that knew nothing of agri 
culture gave place to tribes that settled in villages, had gardens of their 
own, and yet had neither maize nor pottery; next, as we also know, 
came groups that sculptured in stone and knew how to work in 
precious metals in a style freer and more inspired than any which was 
to follow. We had inclined to believe that the whole of American 
history came to full bloom and achieved, as it were, a perfect synthesis 
in the Incas of Peru and the Aztecs of Mexico. But now we know that 
these civilizations were as distant from their sources as is our style 
Empire from the Egypt and the Rome to which it owes so much. All 

242 The Nambikwara 

three were totalitarian arts, harking avidly back to that colossal scale 
of activity for which ignorance and clumsiness had been originally 
responsible a scale appropriate to a State anxious above all to give 
expression to its power, and concentrating not so much upon refine 
ment of manner as upon efficiency in administration or the making of 
war. Even the Mayas monuments now seem to us to mark, however 
flamboyantly, the decadence of an art which reached its zenith a 
thousand years earlier. 

Where did these founder-fathers come from? Our forbears thought 
they knew for certain, but we have to admit that we simply do not 
know at all. Population movements in the Bering Strait region have 
been of great complexity. Quite recently, the Eskimoes took part in 
them. They were preceded over a period of about a thousand years by 
the paleo-Eskimoes whose culture is evocative of archaic China and the 
Scythians; and for a very long rime indeed, from about 8000 B.C. up 
till the eve of the Christian era, other and different populations have 
been traced there. Sculptures going back to the first millennium B.C. 
suggest that the ancient inhabitants of Mexico may have been of a 
physical type very different from that of today s Indians: well-fleshed 
Orientals whose dean-shaven features were flabbily modelled, and, with 
them, bearded and aquiline profiles which put us in mind of the 
Renaissance. Evidence of another kind is provided by the geneticists, 
who tell us that at least forty vegetable species which grew wild, 
or were cultivated, in pre-Colombian America, have either the same 
chromosomic composition as corresponding species in Asia, or a 
composition derived from the same source. Should we infer that 
maize, which is on the list, was brought in from south-east Asia? And 
how could this be, if the Americans were growing maize four thousand 
years ago, at a time when the art of navigation was in its infancy? 

Without going so far as to follow Heyerdahl in his audacious 
theory that Polynesia was colonized by primitive Americans, we must 
admit that the voyage of the Kan-Tiki proves that trans-Pacific 
contacts could have taken place, and taken place often. But at the time, 
towards the beginning of the first millennium B.C., when great civil 
izations were already in existence in America, the Pacific islands were 
empty: nothing has been found, at any rate, which dates so far back. 
We should therefore look beyond Polynesia, towards Melanesia, which 
may already have been inhabited, and towards the whole length of the 
Asiatic coast. We now know that communications between Alaska and 
the Aleutians, on the one hand, and between Alaska and Siberia on the 

FIGS. 46-7. On the left Chavin culture, northern Peru (after Tdlo); on the 
right Monte Alban, southern Mexico (from bas-reliefs known 
as die dancers*) 

FIG. 48. Hopewell culture, eastern United 
States (after Charles C. Wilt 
oughby. The Turner Group of 
Earthwork, Papers of the Pea- 
body Museum, Harvard Uni 
versity, Vol. Vffl, No. 3, 1922) 

244 The Nambikwara 

other, went on without interruption. Towards the beginning of the 
Christian era, iron tools were in use in Alaska, though the natives there 
knew nothing of metallurgy; similar types of pottery may be found 
from the region of the Great Lakes in North America to central Siberia, 
as can also die same legends, the same rites, the same myths. At a time 
when the West lived shut in upon itself, it would appear that all the 
northern peoples, from Scandinavia right across to Labrador, by way 
of Siberia and Canada, were in close and constant contact with one 
another. If the Celts took certain of their legends from that sub-Arctic 
civilization, of which we know almost nothing, we can understand why 
it is that the Grail cycle is closer to the Indian myths which flourished 
in the forests of North America than to any other mythological system. 
Nor is it, in all probability, by chance that the Lapps are still building 
conical tents identical with those of the North American Indians. 

In southern Asia, American civilizations give rise to echoes of 
another sort. On the frontiers of southern China are peoples ( Bar 
barians , the Chinese call them) with an extraordinary affinity with 
those of America; and this is still more the case with the primitive 
tribes of Indonesia. In the interior of Borneo, anthropologists have 
recorded myths, elsewhere missing, which are among those most 
widely known in North America. And, then again, specialists have long 
pointed out the similarities between archaeological documents found 
in south-east Asia and those which belong to the proto-history of 
Scandinavia. Probably, therefore, these three regions Indonesia, the 
American north-east, and Scandinavia formed the trigonometrical 
points of the pre-Colombian history of the New World. 

One of the major events in human history is the emergence of 
neolithic civilization, with its widespread use of pottery and weaving, 
the beginnings of agriculture and livestock-farming, and the first 
experiments in the field of metallurgy. Originally this was confined to 
the region, in the Old World, between the Danube and the Indus. But 
may it not have provoked an uprush of excitement among the most 
backward peoples of Asia and America? It is difficult to understand 
the origins of American civilisation without admitting the hypothesis 
of an intense activity on both the Asiatic and the American coasts of 
the Pacific. For thousands of years this activity may well have been a 
carrier of ideas along the whole length of these coasts. Formerly we 
refused to allow pre-Colombian America the space, as it were, to 
breathe in history, on the grounds that that space had also been denied 
to post-Colombian America. We may still be falling into a second 

Fig. 49. Chavin, northern Peru (after TeEo) 

246 The Nambikwara 

error that of thin Icing that for twenty thousand years America was 
cut off from the rest of the world, simply because, during that time, she 
was cut off from western Europe. Everything points, on the contrary, 
to the hypothesis that, while the Atlantic remained in total silence, a 
humming as of innumerable bees could be heard all around the 
periphery of the Pacific. 

Be that as it may, at the beginning of the first millennium B.C., an 
American hybrid seems to have already engendered three sub-species, 
solidly grafted on to problematic variants traceable to an earlier stage 
of evolution. Among rustic cultures, the Hopewell culture, which oc 
cupied or contaminated all that part of the U.S.A. which lies east of 
the plains, corresponds to the Chavin culture in the north of Peru (this 
in its turn is echoed in the south by Paracas). Chavin, for its part, 
resembles the earliest manifestations of the so-called Olmec civilization 
and foreshadows the development of Maya civilization. In all three 
cases, we are faced with an art that is cursive, free, supple, and marked 
by an intellectual delight in double-meanings (in Hopewell, as in 
Chavin, certain motifs bear one meaning when read normally, and 
quite another when read upside-down). There is as yet almost no sign 
of the angular stiffiiess, the immobilism, which we associate with pre- 
Colombian art. Sometimes I try to persuade myself that the drawings 
of the Caduveo are, in their way, a continuation of this distant 
tradition. Was it at that time that the civilizations of America began to 
draw away from one another, with Mexico and Peru talcing the 
initiative and marching ahead with giant s strides , while the others 
kept to an intermediary position or fell behind, gradually sinking into a 
state of near-savagery? We shall never know exactly what happened in 
tropical America, because climatic conditions there do not favour the 
preservation of archaeological remains; but it is a disturbing fact that 
the social organization of the Ge and even the lay-out of the Bororo 
villages is similar to what we have been able to reconstruct of such 
vanished civilizations of pre-Inca times as those of Tiahuanaco in 
upper Bolivia, 

These considerations have carried me a long way from the 
preparations for my expedition into the western Mato Grosso. But they 
were indispensable if I was to give the reader an idea of the intense 
excitement which attaches to all American studies, whether on the 
archaeological or the anthropological level. Such is the scale of the 
problems, so narrow and so precarious are the paths hitherto trodden, 
so final the annihilation of tract after immense tract of the past, and so 

Fie 50 Hopewell, eastern United States (after W. K. Moorehead, the 
Hopewell mound. . . . Field Museum, Chicago AnthropoL Senes, 
Vol. VI, No. 5, 1922) 

248 The Nawbikwara 

uncertain the bases of our speculations, that even the briefest recon 
naissance on the terrain plunges the enquirer into a state of indecision, 
in which feelings of humble resignation fight for supremacy with 
moments of the insanest ambition. He knows that the essentials have 
gone for ever and that all he can do is to scratch the surface. Yet may 
he not stumble upon some indication, preserved as if by a miracle, 
which will shed new light upon the whole problem? Nothing is 
possible: everything, therefore, is possible. The darkness in which we 
grope our way is too intense for us to hazard any comment on it: we 
cannot even say that it will kst for ever. 

22 In the Sertao 

ACK in Cuiaba, after a two years absence, I tried 
to find out exactly what the position was in respect of the telegraph 
line three or four hundred miles to the north. 

That line was detested in Cuiaba, and for more than one reason. 
Since the foundation of the town in the eighteenth century, such rare 
contacts as it had had with the north had always been made by water, 
along the middle reaches of the Amazon. For supplies of their favourite 
stimulant, the guarana, the inhabitants of Cuiaba relied on expeditions 
by dug-out canoe on the Tapajoz: these might last as long as six months 
at a time. This guarana is a hard paste, chestnut in colour: the Maue 
Indians are almost the only people who make it, and they use as its 
base the fruit of a liana, the Paullinia sorbilis. They take a short sausage 
of this paste and grate it on the bony tongue of a fish, the pirarucu: 
these tongues are kept in a buckskin purse. These are important details, 
for the use of a metallic grater, or of a purse made from any other skin, 
would cause the precious substance to lose all its powers. (The 
Cuiabanos also believe that their ropes of tobacco must be torn open 
and shredded by hand; cut with a knife, they might lose their flavour.) 
The guarana powder is then poured into sugared water, where it does 
not dissolve but floats around in a compact mass. The taste is faintly 
chocolatey. I myself never found that it had the slightest effect, but for 
the peoples of the central and northern Mato Grosso the guarana is as 
important as is the mate for the peoples more to the south. 

People thought it worth while, in any case, to go to great trouble 
to get supplies of guarana. Before venturing among the rapids, a group 
of men were left behind on the bank, where they cut away a corner of 
the forest and planted manioc and maize, so that the expedition should 
find fresh provisions waiting for it on its way home. But, since the 
development of the steam-ship, guarana could be had quicker and in 


250 The Nambikwara 

greater quantity from Rio de Janeiro, whither the coastal-steamers 
would bring it from Manaus and Belem. The expeditions along the 
Tapajoz were relegated, therefore, to a heroic and already forgotten 

And yet, when Rondon announced that he was about to open the 
north-western part of the area to civilizations, memories revived. A 
little was known of the edges of the plateau, where two hamlets, 
Rosarion and Diamantino, respectively sixty-five and a hundred miles 
north of Cuiaba, were drowsing their existences away now that their 
veins and gravels were exhausted. Beyond, the journey would have to 
be made over land, fording one after another the little rivers which 
made up the tributaries of the Amazon, instead of canoeing down 
them: an enterprise, this, as dangerous as it would be lengthy. Towards 
1900 the northern region was still mythical territory, and people even 
believed in the existence there of a mountain-range, the Serra do 
Norte, which was even marked on their maps. 

This state of ignorance, when allied to the still-recent opening-up 
of the American Far West and the consequent Gold Rush, led to the 
craziest aspirations among the peoples of the Mato Grosso, and even, too, 
among those along the coast. Once Rondon s men had laid their 
telegraph line, a great flood of emigrants would invade the territory, 
exploit its undreamed-of resources, and build there a Brazilian 
Chicago. A great disappointment was in store: like that north-easterly 
region in which is the ill-omened territory described by Euclides da 
Cunha in Os Sertoes, the Serra do Norte proved to be a semi-desert, a 
savannah as inhospitable as any in America. And, what is more, the 
telegraph line lost all importance after the beginnings, in 1922, or 
thereabouts, of radio-telegraphy: these coincided with the completion 
of the line, which became overnight an object of merely archaeological 
interest, veteran of a period in the development of science which came 
to an end just as the line was ready to come into service. It did, however, 
enjoy its hour of glory when, in 1924, the federal government was 
cut off from all contact with the interior by the insurrection of Sao 
Paulo. Only by telegraph could Rio remain in contact with Cuiaba, by 
way of Belem and Manaus. Then began the days of decline, and those 
few enthusiasts who had thought to seek employment in the telegraph 
service dropped away or lingered on, forgotten. When I reached them, 
it was several years since they had been sent any provisions. Nobody 
quite dared to shut the line down; but nobody thought of using it, 
either. The poles were left to tumble down, the wire to go rusty; as 

In the Sertao 251 

for the last survivors of the staff, they had neither the courage nor 
the means to leave; and so, slowly, one after another, eaten away by 
sickness, hunger, and solitude, they were dying off. 

All this weighed the more heavily upon the consciences of the 
Cuiabanos because their hopes, though dashed, had none the less 
produced one small tangible result: the exploitation of those employed 
in the telegraph service. Before leaving to take up their posts, every 
employee had to nominate a procurador, or representative, who would 
collect their salaries for them and use them according to instructions . 
These instructions were limited, as a rule, to requests for the purchase 
of cartridges, paraffin, salt, sewing needles, and cloth. All these were 
accounted for at high prices, thanks to an understanding between 
pracur adores, Lebanese merchants, and caravan-managers. After a few 
years the wretched employee was so heavily in debt as to be even less 
able than before to envisage escaping from the bush. The line was best 
forgotten, beyond a doubt; and my project of using it as a base was 
generally discouraged. And when I tried to seek out the retired 
N.C.O.s who had served under Rondon I could get nothing out of 
them but a sombre, ever-repeated um pais ruim, muito ruim, mais ruim 
que qualquer outro . . . a ghastly country, simply ghastly, more ghastly 
than anything anywhere . . / A country, they said, to keep out of at all 

And then there was the problem of the Indians. In 1931 unidentified 
Indians had come down from the valley of the Rio de Sangue, which 
had been beHeved to be uninhabited, and attacked and destroyed the 
telegraph station at Parecis, in a relatively frequented region two 
hundred miles north of Cuiaba and a mere fifty miles from Diamantino. 
These wild people had been nicknamed the wooden muzzles , on 
account of the wooden discs which they had mounted in their lower 
lips and in the lobes of their ears. They had continued their sorties, at 
irregular intervals, and as a result the line had had to be moved some 
fifty miles to the south. As for the Nambikwara nomads who had been 
in intermittent contact with the outposts since 1909, their relations with 
the whites had been marked by ups and downs of fortune. Cordial 
enough at first, they had got progressively worse until, in 1925, they 
invited seven white workpeople to visit their villages: nothing more 
was heard of these guests, and from that moment onwards the 
Nambikwara and the staffs of the telegraph service kept well clear of 
one another. In 1933 a Protestant mission established itself not far from 
the station at Juruena; relations would seem to have been embittered 

252 The Nambikwara 

almost from the start, the natives being displeased with the gifts, 
insufficient in their eyes, with which the missionaries rewarded them 
for their help in building a house and laying out its garden. A few 
months later, an Indian with high fever came to the mission-post and 
was given two aspirins, which he swallowed in front of his friends. He 
then went off for a bathe in the river, caught pneumonia, and died. As 
the Nambikwara are expert poisoners, they could only imagine that 
their friend had been murdered; reprisals were taken, in the course of 
which six inhabitants of the mission among them a baby aged two 
were massacred. A rescue party from Cuiaba arrived to find only one 
woman still alive. Her story, as it was repeated to me, tallied exactly 
with that given to me by the originators of the attack, who served me 
faithfully for several weeks as companions and informers. 

Since this incident, and one or two others which followed upon it, 
the atmosphere had remained tense along the whole length of the line. 
When I at last managed, at the main post office of Cuiaba, to get into 
contact with the main stations a task which took several days to 
accomplish, in every case the news was uniformly depressing. One 
post had just been been threatened with an Indian attack; another had 
not seen any Indians for three months, which in a way was just as bad; 
a third, which had once had Indians working nearby, reported that 
they had reverted to their wild state, become braves, and so on. Only 
one indication was or so I was assured encouraging: three Jesuit 
Fathers had been trying for the last few months to settle in near Juruena, 
on the edge of Nambikwara territory, four hundred miles north of 
Cuiaba. I could always go and see them, get the news from them, and 
make my final plans afterwards. 

And so I spent a month at Cuiaba, getting my expedition ready. 
Having once got leave to go, I was determined to see the thing 
through; a six months journey in the dry season across a plateau des 
cribed to me as more or less a desert, with no grazing animals, and 
no game. I had therefore to take with me all the food I should need, not 
only for my men, but for the mules which would serve us as mounts 
until we got to the basin of the Madeira and could continue by canoe. 
A mule that has no maize to eat is in no state to travel* To carry all this 
food, I needed oxen, which are more hardy and can get by on leaves 
and dry grass. Even so, some of my oxen might well die of hunger 
and exhaustion; it would not do to take too few. And as I should have 
to have herdsmen to drive the oxen, and to unload and load them at 
each halting-place, our numbers would be correspondingly increased. 

In the Sertao 253 

More food, therefore; and more mules; and more oxen to carry the 
food for those men and those mules. ... It was a vicious circle. In the 
end, after consultation with experts in the matter, I settled for fifteen 
men, fifteen mules, and thirty oxen. Where mules were concerned, I 
had no choice: within a radius of thirty miles around Cuiaba there were 
not more than fifteen for sale. I bought the lot, at prices ranging, at the 
1938 rate of exchange, from one hundred and fifty to one thousand 
francs a head, according to their looks. As leader of the expedition, I 
kept the best for myself: a majestic white animal, bought from the 
nostalgic, elephant-loving butcher of whom I spoke earlier. 

The real problem began with the recruitment of my men. The 
scientific personnel, including myself, were four in number at the time 
we set out, and we knew very well that our success, our safety, and 
even our lives, would depend on the loyalty and competence of the 
team I was about to engage. For days on end I picked over the bad- 
hats and adventurers who formed the lowest depths of Cuiaban 
society: then an elderly colonel of sorts recommended to me a former 
herdsman of his, now living in an isolated hamlet, whom he described 
as poor, reliable, and high-principled. I went to call on him, and he 
won me over at once by that instinctive nobility which is often found 
among the peasants of the Brazilian interior. Instead of begging me, as 
did the others, for the rare privilege of a year s paid employment, he 
made certain conditions: that he alone should decide on the choice of 
both men and oxen, and that I should allow him to bring along one or 
two horses, which could be sold at a good price, he thought, in the 
north. I had already bought a herd often oxen from a caravan-manager 
in Cuiaba; what had tempted me was their great stature and, even 
more, their saddles and harnesses, which were made from tapir-hide 
in a style already historic. Moreover the Bishop of Cuiaba had per 
suaded me to take on a protege of his as my cook. After a few days 
march he turned out to be a veado branco, or white roebuck a homo 
sexual, that is to say and so badly afflicted with piles that he could no 
longer sit on a horse. He was only too glad to drop out. My magnificent 
oxen (who had just walked three hundred miles a fact unknown to 
me) had not an ounce of fat on their bodies. One after another they 
began to suffer great pain from the fact that saddles bit into their skins 
and, despite all the skill of our arreieros, their hide was soon worn 
through. Great openings appeared, streaming with blood, infested with 
worms, and offering a clear view of the spinal column. These skeletal, 
festering beasts were our first casualties. 

254 The Nambikwara 

Luckily Fulgencio pronounced Frugencio my head-man, was 
able to make up for lids by buying a number of oxen which, though 
nothing much to look at, managed for the most part to complete the 
journey. As for his own team, he recruited it in his village, or there 
abouts, relying on very young men who had known him from their 
childhood onwards and had a great respect for his skills. Most of them 
came from old Portuguese families that had settled in the Mato Grosso 
a hundred or two hundred years earlier and still kept to their austere 
and ancient traditions. 

Poor as they were, each one of these recruits possessed a hand-towel, 
embroidered and lace-bordered, which had been made for them by 
their mother, sister, or fiancee: and never, at any point on the journey, 
would they have dried their faces on anything else. But when I offered 
them a ration of sugar to go with their coffee, I met with a proud 
refusal. They were not viciados (perverted), they said. I had one or 
two difficulties with them, because they, like myself, had made up their 
minds once and for all about the problems involved in our journey. 
For instance, I only just escaped having a mutiny on my hands where 
our victualling arrangements were concerned. They were convinced 
that they would die of hunger if I did not devote all the available space 
to rice and beans. They would just tolerate the idea of dried meat, 
although they were convinced that we should never go short of game. 
But sugar! Dried fruit! Preserves! Such notions appalled them. They 
would have died for us, but never could we expect to be called Sir . 
Nor would they do any washing, except on their own behalf: such 
duties were fit only for women. The bases of our contract were as 
follows: for the duration of the expedition each of them would be lent 
a mountand arifle; and over and above his foodhe would get five francs 
a day, at the 1938 rate of exchange. This, they insisted, should be kept 
back until they were home again by which time they would have 
put by one thousand five hundred or two thousand francs: a nest-egg 
large enough for a man to get married, in some cases, or start a cattle- 
farm, in others. It was also agreed that Fulgencio would pick up a 
few young Indians, half-civilized Paressi, at the moment when we 
crossed the former domain of that tribe, which today provides the 
great majority of those responsible for the upkeep of the telegraph line 
on the edge of the Nambikwara territories. 

And so, slowly, by groups of two or three men and a few animals, 
our expedition got organized in one hamlet or another all round 
Cuiaba. We were due to assemble one day in June 1938 at the gates of 

In the Sertao 255 

Cuiaba, whence oxen and riders were to set off to rendezvous with 
Fulgencio, taking some of our baggage with them. Our oxen could 
carry from one hundred and twenty to two hundred and fifty pounds 
avoirdupois apiece, according to their strength, the weight being 
distributed in two bundles, one exactly as heavy as the other, on either 
side of a wooden pack-saddle; this saddle was padded round with 
straw, and the whole apparatus covered with dried skins. Our day s 
march averaged about eighteen miles, but at the end of a week our 
animals needed to rest for several days. So we decided to let them go on 
ahead, with as light a load as possible, while I myself would come up 
behind with a heavy lorry as far as the track allowed to Utiarity, that 
is to say, some three hundred and thirty-five miles north of Cuiaba. 
Utiarity was a telegraph station, over the borders of Nambikwara 
territory, on the bank of the Rio Papagaio: here the raft used as a 
ferry was too fragile to bear the weight of my lorry. Beyond that 
point, adventure began. 

Eight days after the departure of our troop tropa is the word for a 
caravan of oxen our lorry and its cargo were on the move. Barely 
thirty-five miles along the road we came upon our men and their 
beasts, peacefully encamped in the savannah, at a time when I had 
supposed them to be almost at Utiarity. It was the first, and not the last, 
time that I got angry. After one or two more disappointments of this 
sort I began to realize, however, that the idea of time had no currency 
in the universe I had just entered. It was not I who was the leader of the 
expedition; nor was it Fulgencio; it was our oxen. These ponderous 
creatures turned into so many duchesses, whose every whim, moment 
of fatigue, or sudden shift of temper had to be carefully watched. An 
ox that is too heavily laden or suddenly feels tired will give no warning 
of these facts; he will go steadily on, till quite suddenly he collapses, 
dead or, if not dead, so exhausted that it will take six months rest to 
get back his strength. In either case, he must be abandoned. The 
herdsmen are, therefore, the servants of their oxen, every one of whom 
has a name that corresponds to his colour, his way of walking, or his 
temperament. Mine, for instance, were called: Piano (the musical 
instrument) ; Ma9a-Barro (mud-squasher) ; Salino (Fond of salt) ; Chico- 
late (my men had never tasted chocolate, but this was their name for a 
mixture of hot sweetened milk and egg-yolk); Taruma (palm-tree); 
Galao (big cock); Lavrado (red ochre); Ramalhete (bouquet); Rochedo 
(reddish); Lambari (a fish); A^anha^o (a blue bird); Carbonate (an 
impure diamond); Galala (?); Mourinho (half-caste); Mansinho 

256 The Nambikwara 

(gentle); Correto (correct); Duque (duke); Motor (motor, because, 
his driver told me, he had such a good engine inside him ); Paulista; 
Navigante (navigator); Moreno (brown); Figurino (model); Brioso 
(lively); Barroso (muddy-looking); Pai de Mel (bee); Ara$a (a wild 
fruit); Bonito (pretty); Brinquedo (toy); Pretinho (swarthy). 

The whole troop came to a halt whenever the herdsmen thought 
it necessary. One by one, the oxen were unloaded and camp set up. If 
it was safe, the oxen were allowed to roam freely; if not, they had to 
graze tinder supervision. (Pastorear was the word, in the latter case.) 
In the morning, men would scour the country for miles around until 
each animal had been located. That was called campiar. The vaqueiros 
speak of their animals as deeply mischievous by nature: likely, in fact, 
to run away from sheer devilry, hide themselves, and evade capture for 
days on end. Was I not once immobilized for a week because one of 
our mules, they said, had gone off into the campo, walking now side 
ways, now backwards, in such a way that his rastos, or traces, were 

When the animals had been got together their sores had to be 
inspected and covered with ointment, and the load had to be readjusted 
so that the pack-saddles did not bear directly on a sore place. And they 
had still to be harnessed and laden. Next began a further drama: four 
or five days rest had left the oxen quite out of practice. No sooner did 
they feel the pole on their backs than some of them would kick up their 
heels and send the carefully balanced load flying in all directions: all 
had to be begun again from the beginning. We counted ourselves lucky 
if none of the recalcitrants had headed at top speed for open country. 
For, if that occurred, camp had to be set up afresh: unloading, pastorear, 
campiar, and so on all had to be gone through before the troop could 
be reassembled and the loading gone through for the fifth or sixth time 
until, for no apparent reason, all went smoothly. 

Myself less patient, even, than my oxen, I took weeks to resign 
myself to this whimsical manner of progress. Leaving the troop behind 
us, we arrived at Rosario Oeste, a little town of a thousand inhabitants, 
black for the most part, dwarfish, and be-goitred, lodged in casebres, 
mud huts a flaring red in colour beneath fronds of bright green palm- 
leaves, aligned in long straight avenues with tall grasses running wild in 
the roadway. 

I remember my host s little garden: it might have been a living- 
room, so minutely was it organized. The earth was swept and beaten, 
and the plants set out as carefully as the furniture in a drawing-room: 

In the Sertao 257 

two orange-trees, a lemon-tree, a pimento-plant, ten stems of manioc, 
two or three chiabos (an edible hibiscus), the same number of stems of 
vegetalbe silk, two rose-trees, a small group of banana-trees, and another 
of sugar-canes. Lastly, a parrot in a cage and three chickens, each tied 
by one foot to a tree. 

At Rosario Oeste, dishes for state occasions are divided down the 
middle: half of each chicken is served roasted and hot, the other half 
cold, with a sauce piquante. Half of each fish is fried, and the other half 
boiled. The meal is rounded off with a cachafa, an alcoholic drink made 
from sugar-cane; with this there goes a ritual salutation: cemiterio, cadeia, 
cachafa nao e feito para uma so pessoa. This means: The three Cs 
cemetery, prison, brandy-wine never visit the same person together/ 
Rosario is already in the middle of the bush, and its inhabitants 
sometime prospectors for rubber, gold, and diamonds might have 
useful advice to give me as to the route to be followed. I listened, with 
this object in mind, to my visitors life-histories, in which legend and 
personal experience were inextricably mingled. 

I could not bring myself to believe, for instance, that^flfos valentes, 
super-cats produced by the cross-breeding of the jaguar and the 
domestic cat, were to be found in the north. But another story may be 
worth telling, even if nothing remains of it in the end but the style, 
the turn of mind, of the sertao. 

At Barra dos Bugres, a little town in the western Mato-Grosso, in 
upper Paraguay, there lived a curandeiro, a bone-setter who also cured 
snake-bites. Fkst he made an incision in the victim s forearm with the 
teeth of the sucuri, or boa. Next he drew on the ground, in gunpowder, 
a cross and set it on fire while the victim held his arm in the smoke. 
Finally he took a piece of cotton, singed it with an artificio (a tinder-box 
whose tinder is made of lint screwed up into a cornet-shaped 
receptacle), dipped it in cachafa, and made the victim drink the mixture. 
That was all. 

One day the leader of a turma de poaieros (a troop of ipecacuanha- 
pickers) witnessed one of these cures and asked the bone-setter to wait 
till the following Sunday, when his men would arrive and, beyond a 
doubt, would want to have themselves vaccinated (at five milreis a 
time, or, in 1938, five francs). The bone-setter agreed. On the Saturday 
morning a dog was heard howling outside the barracao, or collective 
cabane. The troop-leader sent a camarada to see what was the matter: 
a cascavel, or rattle-snake, was running wild. The troop-leader told the 
bone-setter to capture the snake, and when he refused the troop-leader 

258 The Nambikwara 

said: No snake, no vaccinations. 3 And so the bone-setter reached for the 
snake, got bitten, and died. 

The man who told me this added that he had himself been 
vaccinated by the bone-setter and that, shortly afterwards, he had 
deliberately let himself be bitten by a snake, to see how far the 
vaccination was effective. It worked perfectly. By the way, he added, 
*it wasn t a poisonous snake/ 

I tell this story because it illustrates very well the combination of 
malice and naivety in regard to incidents, in themselves tragic, which 
the peoples of the Brazilian interior treat as the small change of every 
day life. This combination is typical of their way of thinking, and the 
conclusions drawn from it are only superficially absurd. I heard much 
the same kind of reasoning from the leader of the neo-Moslem Ahmadi 
sect, who had invited me to dinner in Lahore. The Ahmadis strayed 
from orthodoxy in that they believed, for instance, that all those who, 
in the course of history, had claimed to be Messiahs (and Socrates and 
Buddha were among those whom they included) had in fact deserved 
the tide; God would otherwise have chastised them for their impu 
dence. My friend in Rosario no doubt thought, in the same way, that 
if the bone-setter s magic had not been authentic the supernatural 
powers would have exposed him by making a poisonous snake out of 
one that was normally harmless. As the cure was considered to be 
magical, he had verified it on a level which was also, in its way, that of 

We had been assured that the road to Utiarity had no surprises in 
reserve for us: none comparable, at any rate, to those I had encountered 
two years earlier on the route to the Bio Sao Lourenfo. And yet, when 
we reached the summit of the Serra do Tombador, at the point known 
as Caixa-Furada, one of the pinions of our driving-shaft broke. We 
were some twenty miles from Diamantino, whither our drivers set off 
on foot to telegraph to Cuiaba. Rio could fly the necessary spare part 
to Cuiaba, and it could be sent up to us by lorry: with luck the whole 
operation would take eight days, by which time our oxen would have 
overtaken us. 

So we set our camp on the heights of the Tombador, a rocky spur 
about a thousand feet high, at the end of the chapada over the basin of 
the river Paraguay. On the other side, stream after little stream was 
already swelling the tributaries of the Amazon. What were we to do 
in this spiky savannah, once we had found the few trees on which were 
hung hammocks and mosquito-nets? Sleep, daydream, hunt? The dry 

In the Sertao 259 

season had begun a month before; we were in June; apart from one or 
two half-hearted showers in August the chuvas de caju, and even they 
never came in 1938 -not a drop of rain would fall before September. 
The savannah had already taken on its winter-time look: plants were 
faded and dried-up, burnt in places by bush-fires, with the sand showing 
through in big patches beneath the scorched brushwood. It was the 
season at which such game as was wandering across the plateau was 
concentrated in those impenetrable round thickets, the capoes, whose 
domed outlines marked the point at which a spring bubbled up: there, 
a yard or two of still-green pasture could be found. 

During the rainy season, from October to March, when rain fell 
almost every day, the temperature rose to forty-two or forty-four 
degrees Centigrade during the day. The nights were cooler, with on 
occasion a sudden chill at dawn. During the dry season, on the contrary, 
changes of temperature were very great sometimes from a maximum 
of forty degrees in the day to a minimum of eight or ten degrees at 

As we sat round our camp-fire drinking mate we listened to the 
tales of adventure in the sertao which were being told by our drivers, 
and by the two brothers who were our particular servants. They 
described how it is that the big ant-eater, the tamandua, is quite harmless 
in the campo, where he loses his balance if he attempts to stand upright. 
In the forest he leans up against a tree, steadying himself with his tail, 
and smothers, with his forepaws, whatever comes within reach. The 
ant-eater has no fear of night attack, what is more, for he sleeps with 
his head folded back along his body, and not even the jaguar can 
make out where he has put it . In the rainy season, one ear must be kept 
on the alert for the wild pigs (caetetu) which go about in bands of fifty 
or more; the grinding of their teeth can be heard for miles around 
(whence their second name of queixada, from queixo, the chin). The 
hunter should take to his heels when he hears this sound, for if any one 
of the pigs is killed or wounded the others will make a mass attack on 
their adversary, whose only course is to climb a tree, or a cupim 

One man told of how once, when travelling with his brother, he 
heard someone crying for help but, for fear of the Indians, did not do 
anything about it till the morning. The cries went on, meanwhile, till 
dawn when they found a hunter perched up in a tree, with his rifle 
fallen to the ground and an angry circle of pigs all around him. 

His fate was less tragic than that of another hunter, who, hearing 

2<5o The Nambikwara 

the wild pigs in the distance, took refuge on an anthill, where the pigs 
surrounded him. He fired into them until his last cartridge was spent, 
and he could only defend himself with the woodcutter s knife or 
facao. The next day a rescue-party came out to look for him, and before 
long they knew, from the urubus, or carrion-birds, that were circling 
overhead, just where he must be. Nothing remained on the spot but 
his skull and the gutted carcasses of the pigs he had killed. 

The talk took a more humorous turn: how the seringueiro, or 
rubber-prospector, once met a hungry jaguar. Each followed the other 
round and round a big clump of trees till suddenly the man dodged in 
the wrong direction and came face to face with the jaguar. Neither 
dared to move. The man didn t even dare to cry out: and it was only 
after half an hour that he got cramp, made an involuntary movement, 
and noticed he was carrying a gun 5 . 

Unluckily our camp was infested with the usual insects: maribondo 
wasps, mosquitoes, piums, and borrachudos (tiny blood-sucking flies that 
came up by the swarm), and with these the pais-de-mel, honey-fathers 
bees, in a word. South American bees have no sting, but they plague 
the visitor in quite another way. Delighting in human sweat, they 
battle for their favourite positions at the corners of the eye, the lip, 
and the nostril. Once established, they seem to become completely 
intoxicated by their victim s secretions, preferring rather to die in situ 
than to take refuge in flight. Further connoisseurs then fly up, attracted 
by the sight of such corpses as linger on one s skin. Thence their nick 
name of lambe-olhos: eye-lickers. The bees are the real plague of the 
tropical bushlands, worse even than the mosquitoes and the blood 
suckers, to whose infections one s system adapts itself at the end of a 
few weeks. 

But where there are bees, there is honey: and honey that can be 
collected with impunity, gutting the bees above-ground shelters, or 
finding in a hollow tree shelf upon shelf of spherical cells, each as big 
as an egg. Each species of bee produces a honey with its own special 
flavour I counted at least thirteen and all of them so pungent that 
we soon learned to do as the Nambikwara do and dilute them with 
water. The scents are deep-lying and slow to reveal themselves in their 
entirety in this respect they are like the wines of Burgundy and they 
have a disconcerting strangeness. I found something of the same sort 
in a condiment, produced in south-east Asia from cockroach glands and 
worth its weight in gold. The merest touch of it is enough to scent a 
whole dish. Also very near to it is the smell given off by a French 

In the Sertao 261 

coleoptera, dark in colour, which is called procuste chagrine (shagreen 

At long last the rescue-lorry arrived with the new part and a 
mechanic to fix it in place. OS we went again, through hal-ruined 
Diamantino in the valley that looked over towards the Rio Paraguay, 
and up on to the plateau uneventfully, this time. Skirting the Rio 
Arinos which sends its waters to the Tapajoz, and thence to the 
Amazon, we turned off to the west, towards the accidented valleys of 
the Sacre and the Papagaio contributors, both, to the Tapajoz who 
mark their arrival by falls two hundred feet high. At Paressi, we stopped 
to inspect the weapons left behind them by the Beios de Pau who were 
said, once again, to be not far away. A little farther on, we spent a 
sleepless night in the marshlands, disturbed by the native camp-fires 
whose smoke was rising, a mile or two away, into the cloudless skies 
of the dry season. One more day, to see the river-falls and get together 
a little information in a village of Paressi Indians. And there we were, 
at the Rio Papagaio, a hundred or more yards wide, with its waters, 
flowing by at ground-level, so clear that we could see deep, deep down 
to the rocky river-bed. On the far side, a handful of straw huts and 
mud-walled sheds: the Utiarity telegraph station. "We unloaded the 
lorry, sent over our luggage and our stores of food by the raft which 
served as a ferry, and took leave of our drivers. Already on the farther 
shore we could glimpse the naked bodies of the Nambikwara. 

23 On the Line 


DIVING on the Rondon Line was much like living 
on the moon. Imagine a territory the size of France, three-quarters of 
it unexplored; inhabited only by little bands of nomads, who are 
among the most genuinely primitive* of the world s peoples; and 
traversed from one end to die other by a telegraph line. The picada, or 
summary track which runs alongside it, is for nearly five hundred miles 
the region s only landmark. The Rondon Commission undertook a 
reconnaissance or two to the north and the south, but except for these 
the traveller may be said to step into the unknown the moment he 
leaves the picada and even the picada itself is sometimes not easily 
distinguished. There remains, you may say, the wire itself: but the wire, 
obsolete from the day of its completion, hung down from poles never 
replaced when they go to rot and tumble to the ground. (Sometimes 
the termites attack them, and sometimes the Indians, who mistake the 
humming of the telegraph wires for the noise of bees on their way to 
the hive.) In places the wire trails on the ground, or has been carelessly 
draped across the nearest little tree. Paradoxically, in short, the line 
rather aggravates than takes away from the prevailing atmosphere of 

An entirely virgin landscape is so monotonous as to deprive its 
wildness of all meaning. It does not so much defy us as return a blank 
stare: almost it abolishes itself as we look at it. And, in this bush that 
seems to go on for ever, the narrow slit of the picada, the contorted 
outlines of the remaining poles, the reversed arcading of the pendent 
wires -all put us in mind of those incongruous objects which float in a 
vast loneliness in the paintings of Yves Tanguy. Bearing witness, as they 
do, to the passage of western Man and the vanity of his efforts, they 
mark out, more clearly than if they had not been there, the extreme 
limit that he has attempted to cross. The erratic nature of the enterprise 


On the Line 263 

and the total reverse in which it culminated give a final authenticity 
to the surrounding wastelands. 

About a hundred people in all lived on the line . Some of them 
were Paressi Indians, recruited on the spot, in days gone by, by the 
Telegraph Commission. The army had taught them to keep the 
wires in good condition and operate the machinery not that this 
stopped them from hunting with bow and arrows, in traditional style. 
The rest were Brazilians who had been attracted to the job by the hope 
of finding either an Eldorado or a second Far West. These hopes had 
long been dashed: the farther they advanced into the plateau, the rarer 
became the deposits of diamonds. 

Deposit, or form , was the name given to the little stones, notice 
able either by their colour or by their strangeness of form, which are 
to the diamond what footprints are to an animal. Anywhere where you 
see those stones, there ve been diamonds. There are, for instance, the 
emburradas, stuffed pebbles ; the pretinhas, little negresses ; the 
amarellinhas, golden sovereigns ; the figados-de-gallmha, chicken- 
livers ; the sangues-de-boi, Bull s blood ; thefeijoes-reluzentes, shining 
beans ; the dentes-de-cao, dog s teeth ; tl&eferragems, tools ; and also the 
carbonates, lacres, friscas de ouro, fader as, chiconas, and so on. 

Diamonds in short supply, therefore: game almost non-existent; 
and among these sandy wastes, where rain fell in torrents for one half 
of the year and not a drop could be expected during the remaining six 
months, nothing grew but a few spiky, mis-shapen shrubs. As has often 
happened in the history of Brazil, a handful of adventurers, madmen, 
and starvelings had been swept into the interior on an impulse of high 
enthusiasm, only to be abandoned, forgotten, and cut off from all 
contact with civilization. Each little station consisted of a group of 
straw huts, fifty or seventy-five miles from its nearest neighbour a 
distance which could, in any case, be covered only on foot their 
isolation was complete, and each individual wretch had to adapt 
himself to it by devising his own particular brand of insanity. 

Every morning the telegraph system came momentarily to life. 
News was exchanged: one station had seen the camp-fires of a band of 
Indians, bent on their extermination: another reported the disappear 
ance of two Paressis, victims no doubt of those same Nambikwara 
bands whose reputation was firmly established along the whole length 
of the line. They had been sent, beyond all question, na invernada do ceu 
to hibernate in heaven . The tale is retold, with grim humour, of 
the missionaries who were massacred in 1933, or the telegraphist who 

264 The Nambikwara 

was found buried up to his waist, with his chest riddled with arrows 
and his automatic sender perched on his head. For the Indians have a 
morbid fascination for the servants of the line. On the one hand, they 
represent a continuous danger, the more intense for the play of fancy; 
and on the other the visits of their little nomadic bands constitute the 
sole distraction of the telegraphist s life and, more than that, his only 
opportunity of human contact. So that when they turn up, once or 
twice a year, many pleasantries fly to and fro between the reputed killers 
and their potential victims each jest being couched, of course, in the 
weird jargon of the line, which is made up of, in all, some forty words, 
half Portuguese, half Nambikwara. 

Apart from these episodes, each of which has its moment of 
vicarious excitement for those who are listening in, every head of 
station develops a personal style all his own. Take, for example, the 
fanatic who never bathes in the river without loosing off half a dozen 
rounds with his Winchester rifle. He hopes in this way to intimidate 
the Indian bands who would otherwise, he feels sure, spring upon him 
from both banks of the river and cut his throat: but the only result is 
that he squanders his irreplaceable store of ammunition. This activity 
is known as quebrar bala, or breaking a cartridge. Then there is the man 
of the world who had been a student of chemistry in Rio and still 
imagines himself to be passing the time of day on the Largo-do-Ouvidor . 
But as he has now nothing whatever to say his conversation consists 
merely of empty mimicry, stray clackings of fingers and tongue, and 
meaningful* glances: in the days of the silent cinema he would have 
passed as a boulevardier. Nor should the man of prudence be forgotten: 
for he it is who has contrived to maintain his family in a state of 
equilibrium, biologically speaking, with a band of deer which drinks 
regularly from a nearby spring. Every week he kills just one of these 
animals, never less, never more; and so both game and station manage 
to keep going. But for the last eight years since the annual revictu- 
alling of the stations, by a caravan of oxen, was discontinued he 
and his family have eaten nothing but deer. 

An equally picturesque note of quite another kind was struck by the 
Jesuit Fathers who had had a few weeks* start of us and had just settled 
down near the station of Juruena, some thirty-five miles from Utiarity. 
There were three of them: a Dutchman who thought only of his 
devotions, a Brazilian who planned to civilize the Indians, and a 
Hungarian, a one-time squire and inveterate lover of the chase, whose 
role it was to provide the mission with fresh meat. Not long after their 

On the Line 265 

arrival they were visited by their Provincial, an elderly Frenchman 
with a prodigious roll to his r s who seemed to have stepped straight 
out of the reign of Louis XIV; from the gravity with which he spoke 
of the savages he never spoke of the Indians in any other way you 
would have thought that he had disembarked in a new Canada, with 
Carrier or Champlain at his side. 

Hardly had he arrived when the Hungarian was seized with one 
of the attacks which are known among French colonials as the coup de 
bambou. (He was said to have been prompted to enter his Order by the 
repentance consequent upon a first youth spent in debauch.) Insult 
after insult rang through the compound as he set upon his superior, and 
the Provincial, more than ever perfectly in character, exorcized him in 
a flurry of signs of the cross and cries of Vade retro v Satanas! 9 The 
Hungarian, delivered at last of his demon, was put on fifteen days 
bread and water: a punishment which remained symbolical, since 
bread was not to be had at Juruena. 

Both Caduveo and Bororo could, without any play upon words, 
be called in their different ways learned societies . The Nambikwara, 
by contrast, brought the observer back to what he might readily, 
though mistakenly, suppose to be the childhood of our race. We had 
set up our camp on the edge of the little village, beneath a half- 
dismantled straw roof which had been used as a store-room at the time 
when the line was being laid. The Indians camp was only a few yards 
away, and consisted of a score or so of people, making up six families 
in aU. The little band had arrived there a few days before us, during 
one of its nomadic sorties. 

For the Nambikwara year is divided into two distinct parts. During 
the rainy season, from October to March, each group takes up its 
lodging on a little hill overlooking a river-bed and builds for itself 
rough and ready huts with branches and palm-leaves. In a burnt-out 
clearing in the forest gallery which fills the damp lower part of each 
valley they plant and till their gardens. These include above all manioc 
(both bitter and sweet), several kinds of maize, tobacco, sometimes 
some haricot beans, cotton, ground-nuts, and calabashes. The women 
grate the manioc on flat spiky strips of palm-wood; when one of the 
poisonous species is in question, they get rid of the juice by pressing 
the fresh pulp into a taut-drawn piece of bark. From these gardens they 
get enough food to keep them going during part of their sedentary 
period. To keep something in the larder , cakes of manioc-pulp are care 
fully buried in the earth and dug up, half-rotten, weeks or months later. 

266 The Nambikwara 

At the beginning of the dry season they abandon their village and 
split up into small roving bands. For seven months these nomadic 
groups wander across the savannah in search of game: tiny animals 
above all grubs, spiders, grasshoppers, rodents, snakes, lizards and, 
with these, fruit, seeds, roots, wild honey everything, in short, which 
might prevent them from dying of starvation. When they set up camp, 
it is for a day or two, or sometimes for a few weeks, and each family 
makes for itself a rude shelter of branches and palm-leaves stuck into 
the sand in a semi-circle and tied together at the top. As the day 
progresses the shelter is moved round, in such a way that its protective 
screen stands always between its inmates and the sun or, as the case 
may be, the wind or the rain. The search for food is uppermost, how 
ever, in everyone s mind. The women arm themselves with pointed 
sticks, to dig up roots or, on occasion, to kill off any little animal that 
presents itself. The men go off hunting with big bows made of palm- 
wood: their arrows are of several sorts. For birds they use a blunted 
point, so that the arrow shall not get caught in a high branch. For fish 
a longer arrow is used. It has no feathering, but is divided at one 
end into either three or five tapering points. There are also poisoned 
arrows, whose tips are dipped in curare and protected by a bamboo 
sheath: these are for game of medium size. For big game jaguar or 
tapir an arrow with a spear-shaped head of bamboo is used: this 
brings on a haemorrhage, since the dose of poison carried by any one 
arrow would not be effective. 

After the splendour of the Bororo palaces, the material poverty of 
the Nambikwara seems almost beyond belief. Neither sex wears any 
clothing at all and their physical type, as much as the poverty of their 
circumstances, marks them out at once from their neighbours. They 
are small in stature: just over five feet, in the case of a man, and about 
three inches less among tie women. As is the case with so many other 
South American tribes, the women have no very clearly modelled 
waist; but their limbs are unusually graceful, and their hands and feet 
more elegantly made than is generally the case. Their skin is darker 
too: many are afflicted with skin diseases that cover their entire bodies 
with patches of violet, but, among those not so affected, the skin is 
powdered with the sand in which they love to roll themselves; this 
gives it, after a time, a look and feel of velvety beige which can, above 
all in the case of the younger women, be enormously attractive. The 
head is elongated, the features often delicate and well shaped, the eye 
lively, the body hair better developed than among most peoples of 

On the Line 267 

Mongolian origin, and the hair of the head wavy and not, as a rule, 
quite black. Earlier visitors to the region were so impressed by the 
Nambikwara s physical type that they put forward the hypothesis of 
cross-breeding with negroes who had escaped from their plantations 
in order to take refuge in the quilombos, or colonies of rebel slaves. But, 
if the Nambikwara had been so crossed in recent times, the admixture 
of negro blood would make it out of the question for them all to 
belong to blood group O, as our researches confirmed that they 
do: for this group implies, if not a purely Indian origin, at any rate 
a demographic isolation of several centuries duration. Today the 
Nambikwara s physical type seems to us less problematical, since it 
harks back to that of an ancient race whose bones have been found in 
Brazil in the caves of Lagoa Santa, one of the sites in the State of 
Minas Geraes. I myself was amazed to find myself reminded of the 
almost-Caucasian faces, found in certain statues and bas-reliefs in the 
region of Vera Cruz, which are now attributed to the oldest of 
Mexican civilizations. 

This similarity was all the more disturbing because the indigence 
of the Nambikwara s material culture disposed one not to associate 
them with the loftiest cultures of central and southern America, but 
rather to treat them as survivors of the stone age. The women wore, at 
most, a single strand of shell-beads round their waists and another 
strand or two as necklaces or as shoulder-belts; their ear-rings were of 
feathers or mother-of-pearl, their bracelets were carved from armadillo- 
shell or, at times, made up from straw or cotton (woven by their men) 
and tied round their ankles or biceps. The men s wardrobe was even 
more summary, except that some of them wore a tuft of straw that 
hung from their belts just above their genitals. 

In addition to bow and arrows, their armament consisted of a sort 
of flattened spike. But this seemed to relate as much to magic as to the 
hunt, for I never saw it used except to deflect a hurricane or to kill off, 
with a well-directed throw, the atasu, or evil spirits of the bush. The 
name of atasu is given also to the stars, and to our oxen, of whom they 
lived in terror. (And yet they will readily kill and eat mules, though 
they made their acquaintance at the same time as that of the oxen.) My 
wrist-watch was also called an atasu. 

The Nambikwara s entire possessions can be assembled, therefore, 
in the baskets which the women carry, slung over their shoulders, 
during the nomadic season. These baskets are of plaited bamboo, 
worked in an openwork pattern with six strands of split bamboo (two 

268 The Nambikwara 

pairs running perpendicularly and one cross-wise) made up into an 
open network of large hexagonal shapes: at the top they spread slightly 
outwards, and at the bottom they form a shape like a finger-stall. They 
can be as much as five feet high as tall, that is to say, as the women 
who bear them: at the bottom, a few cakes of raw manioc are covered 
over with leaves. Next comes their furniture and their stock of tools: 
calabashes used as receptacles; knives made from a sharp splinter of 
bamboo, roughly flaked stones, scraps of iron (obtained, these, by 
barter) stuck with wax, or tied with string, between two pieces of 
wood that serve as a handle; drills made up of a sharp flake of stone or 
iron point, mounted on the end of a wooden stem that can be rotated 
between the palms of the hands. They also have the axes and hatchets 
which the Rondon Commission gave them, so that their stone axes are 
now used mainly as anvils when fashioning objects from bone or shell: 
grinders and polishers are still made from stone, however. Among the 
western groups, with whom I began my enquiries, pottery was 
unknown: and elsewhere it is exceedingly crude. The Nambikwara 
have no canoes, and when they come to water they swim across it, 
helping themselves at times with buoys made of faggots. 

All this equipment was so primitive as hardly to merit the name of 
manufactures*. The Nambikwara basket contains above all the raw 
materials from which tools can be put together as and when they are 
needed: woods of various kinds, and notably those which can be used 
as fire-drills; lumps of wax or resin; bunches of vegetable fibres; the 
bones, teeth, and claws of animals; odd bits of fur; feathers; hedgehogs 
quills; nutshells, and shells taken from the river; stones; cotton; and 
seeds. All this has such a haphazard appearance that the collector may 
well be discouraged and see in the whole assemblage the result not so 
much of human activity as of that of some race of giant ants. And there 
is, in effect, a resemblance between a column of ants and a Nambikwara 
band as it marches in single file through the tall grasses, each of the 
women encumbered with her plaited basket, much as an ant which 
forms part of a colony on the move is encumbered with the egg it has 
to carry. 

The Indians of tropical America invented the hammock. Not to 
know of the hammock, and not to have any convenience of that kind 
for rest or sleep, is for them the very symbol of poverty. The 
Nambikwara sleep naked on the bare earth. As the nights of the dry 
season are cold they keep warm by sleeping close to one another, or by 
drawing nearer and nearer to the remains of the camp-fire so much 

On the Line 269 

so, in fact, that they often wake up at dawn sprawled in the still-warm 
ashes of the fire. For this reason the Paressi have a nickname for them 
uaikoakore, those who sleep on the ground . 

As I said before, the band who were our neighbours at Utiarity, and 
later at Juruena, was made up of six families: the leader s, with his 
three wives and his adolescent daughter; and five others, each made 
up of a married couple and one or two children. All were interrelated, 
for the Nambikwara prefer to marry a niece (their sister s daughter), 
or a kinswoman of the kind which anthropologists call cross-cousin : 
the daughter of their father s sister, or of their mother s brother. 
Cousins of this sort are called, from birth, by a name which means 
husband or wife, while the other cousins (the children respectively of 
two brothers or two sisters and called, therefore, by anthropologists 
parallel cousins) call themselves, and treat one another as, brothers and 
sisters and may not intermarry. All the Indians seemed to be on very 
good terms with one another: yet even so small a group twenty- 
three persons in all, counting the children sometimes ran into trouble. 
, A young widower had just married a rather good-for-nothing girl who 
refused to take any interest in the children of his first marriage two 
little girls, one six years old and the other two or three. Despite the 
kindness of the elder child, who acted as mother to her little sister, the 
baby was very neglected. The grown-ups would have been delighted 
for me to adopt her, for she was being passed from one family to the 
next, and not all were glad to care for her. The children, however, had 
a solution which they preferred, and which seemed to them a tremen 
dous joke: they brought me the little girl, who could as yet barely 
walk, and suggested, with gestures which could have only one 
meaning, that I should take her for my wife. 

Another family was composed of father and mother, no longer 
young, and their pregnant daughter, who had come back to them now 
that her husband had abandoned her. And then there was a young 
couple, with a child still at the breast. These were still suffering from 
the prohibitions which are enforced upon parents whose child is still 
unweaned. They were filthy, because they were not allowed to bathe 
in the river; thin, because most kinds of food were forbidden them; 
and idle, because they were excluded, for the time being, from the 
collective life of the band. Sometimes the man went off on his own 
to hunt or collect food; the woman was fed by her husband or her 

The Nambikwara make no difficulties and are quite indifferent 

270 The Nambikwara 

to the presence of the anthropologist with his notebooks and camera. 
But certain problems of language complicated matters. They are not 
allowed, for instance, to use proper names. To tell one from another 
we had to do as the men of the line do and agree with the Nambikwara 
on a set of nicknames which would serve for identification. Either 
Portuguese names, like Julio, Jos^-Maria, Luisa; or sobriquets such as 
Lebre, hare, or Assucar, sugar. I even knew one whom Rondon or one 
of his companions had nicknamed Cavaignac on account of his little 
pointed beard a rarity among Indians, most of whom have no hair on 
their faces. 

One day, when I was playing with a group of children, a litde girl 
was struck by one of her comrades. She ran to me for protection and 
began to whisper something, a great secret , in my ear. As I did not 
understand I had to ask her to repeat it over and over again. Eventually 
her adversary found out what was going on, came up to me in a rage, 
and tried in her turn to tell me what seemed to be another secret. After 
a litde while I was able to get to the bottom of the incident. The first 
little girl was trying to tell me her enemy s name, and when the enemy 
found out what was going on she decided to tell me the other girl s 
name, by way of reprisal. Thenceforward it was easy enough, though 
not very scrupulous, to egg the children on, one against the other, till 
in time I knew all of their names. When this was completed and we 
were all, in a sense, one another s accomplices, I soon got them to give 
me the adults names too. When this was discovered the children were 
reprimanded and my sources of information dried up. 

The second linguistic difficulty arose from die fact that the 
Nambikwara speak a number of different dialects, all of which are 
unknown. The termination of the nouns, and certain verbal forms, 
distinguish one dialect from another. On the line* a kind of pidgin 
language is spoken, and this is useful only at the very beginning. The 
good nature and lively intelligence of die Indians were such that I 
soon picked up the rudiments of their speech. Luckily, their language 
includes a number of key words kititu in the eastern dialect, dige, 
dage, or tchore elsewhere which when added to a noun turn it into a 
verb with, if need be, a negative particle. In this way one can say more 
or less whatever one wants to, even if this basic Nambikwara does 
not allow of any very subtle processes of thought. The natives are well 
aware of the uses of this short cut, and when they try to speak Portu 
guese they employ much the same methods. Thus ear and eye 
become respectively to hear (or to understand ) and to see , and 

On the Line 271 

they render the contrary notion by saying, for instance, orelha acabo or 
olho acabo: Ear [or eye] I finish. . . . 

The Nambikwara language has a rather clouded or fogged sound 
to it, as if it were being whispered and spoken on the breath . The 
women like to emphasize this by slurring certain words (thus kititu 
becomes kediutsu when they pronounce it): they articulate with the 
tip of the tongue, affecting a babyish, mumbled utterance. They are 
perfectly aware of the mannered, not to say precious, character of their 
diction; and when I did not understand them and had to ask them to 
say something again they exaggerated all the more, out of mischief. If 
I gave up in discouragement they would burst into laughter and make 
fun of me: they had got the better of it. 

I soon realized that apart from the verbal stiffly the Nambikwara 
language included a dozen others, which marked off objects and living 
things into categories. Hair, body hair, feathers; pointed objects and 
orifices; bodies, whether supple or stiff; fruits, seeds, rounded objects; 
things which hung down or trembled; bodies that swelled out or were 
full of liquid; barks of trees, hides, and other forms of covering, etc. 
This suggested a parallel with a linguistic family in central America and 
the north-west of South America: Chibcha, once spoken by a great 
civilization in what is now Colombia, an intermediary between the 
civilizations of Mexico and Peru. Could the Nambikwara language be 
a southerly offshoot of this? This was yet another reason not to be taken 
in by appearances. For all their physical poverty, natives who hark 
back in physical type to the most ancient of the Mexicans and in 
language-structure to the Chibcha empire are not at all likely to be 
primitives in the true sense of the word. Rather should they be 
compared to a stock of prodigal sons for whom history has never 
killed the fatted calf. Why this should be so we do not know: but the 
answer may be found, one day, in their past, of which we as yet know 
nothing, and in the inhospitable character of the terrain in which they 
are now living. 

24 Family Life 



Nambikwara wake up at dawn, relight their 
fires, warm themselves up as best they can after the chill of the night, 
and make a light meal of whatever has been left over from the previous 
day. Shortly after this the men go off hunting, individually or in 
groups* The women stay behind in the encampment and busy them 
selves in the kitchen. They take their first bathe when the sun begins to 
get up. Women and children often bathe together, for the fun of it; 
and sometimes they light a fire so that when they come out of the water 
they can squat in front of it and warm themselves making the most, 
again in fun, of such momentary shivers as may overtake them after 
their bathe. Other bathes follow during the course of the day. There is 
not much variety in their occupations. The most exacting, in terms of 
time and trouble, is the preparation of their food: the manioc has to be 
grated and pressed, and its pulp dried and cooked; or else it s a matter 
of shelling and boiling the cumaru nuts which add a scent of bitter 
almonds to so many of their dishes. When supplies run short the 
women and children go off on an expedition to collect and gather. 
When there s enough to eat the women turn to spinning, squatting or 
kneeling the while, with their buttocks resting on their heels. Or else 
they trim, polish, and string together their pearls nut-kernels or 
river-shells and with these they make ear-rings and other ornaments. 
And if they don t feel like work they pick off one another s lice, or idle 
about, or go to sleep. 

In the heat of the day the camp falls silent. Its inhabitants, speechless 
if not actually asleep, make for the precarious shade of their huts. At 
other times everybody talks all the time, no matter what he is doing. 
Laughter and high spirits are general and there s a constant flow of 
joking and teasing, obscene or scatological references being greeted 
with particular approval. An enquiry or th* arrival of a visitor brings 


Family Life 273 

all work to a halt; and if two dogs or birds should chance to copulate 
everyone downs tools and watches closely and with fascination. Work 
does not begin again until this important event has been discussed at 
appropriate length. 

The children laze about for most of the day, and although the girls 
may give their elders some momentary assistance the boys enjoy a more 
leisurely life, with some occasional fishing. Men who have not gone 
hunting devote themselves to wickerwork, or make arrows or musical 
instruments, or do a little to help in the house . Most households are 
perfectly harmonious. Towards three or four in the afternoon the 
hunters return home. The camp then becomes more lively, conversa 
tion takes a brisker turn, and the groups that form and re-form have no 
longer a family basis. Dinner consists of flat cakes of manioc and what 
ever has been found during the day. At nightfall the women take it in 
turns to go out into the bush and cut down or otherwise collect enough 
wood for the night. Back they come, stumbling in the half-light under 
the load that pulls tight the porter s bandeau across their foreheads. 
Eventually they squat down and lean a little backwards, so that the big 
basket of plaited bamboo rests on the ground and the bandeau loosens. 

The wood is heaped in one corner of the camp and everyone takes 
what he needs. Family groups re-form as the fires begin to blaze and the 
evening is spent either in talk or in singing and dancing. Sometimes this 
is kept up well into the night; but usually, after some preliminary 
caresses and a bout or two of affectionate tussling, each couple draw 
more closely together, the mother takes her sleeping child in her arms, 
all fall silent, and nothing is heard in the night but the crackling of a log, 
the light step of someone looking after the fire, the barking of a dog, 
or a child crying. 

The Nambikwara have few children; childless couples are not 
uncommon, though one or two children constitute the norm, and it is 
quite exceptional for there to be more than three in one family. Sexual 
relations between parents are forbidden while their child remains un- 
weaned: often, that is to say, until it is three years old. The mother 
carries her child astraddle on her thigh, and keeps it in place with a broad 
shoulder-strap of cotton or bark; as she also has to carry a large basket 
on her back, one child is clearly her maximum load. Living, as they do, a 
nomadic life in a very poor environment, the natives have to be very care 
ful; and the women do not hesitate to resort to abortion of one kind or 
another medicinal plants, or some mechanical device in case of need. 

They both feel and show, none the less, the liveliest affection for 

274 The Nambikwara 

their children; and this affection is returned. Sometimes, however, this 
is masked by extreme nervousness; instability takes its toll. A little 
boy, for instance, is suffering from indigestion; between headache and 
vomiting he spends half his time groaning aloud and the other half in 
sleep. Nobody pays the slightest attention to him and he is left com 
pletely alone all day. But when evening comes his mother comes across 
to him, tenderly picks off all his lice as he falls asleep, signs to the others 
not to come near, and makes for him a kind of cradle with her arms. 

Or, it may be, a young mother is playing with her baby. Playfully 
she gives him slap after little slap on the back; he loves it, and to make 
him laugh the louder she slaps harder and harder till he bursts into tears; 
then she stops and consoles him. 

Once I saw the little orphan of whom I spoke earlier literally 
trampled underfoot during a dance; in the general excitement she 
had fallen down and nobody had noticed. 

When they are crossed, children often hit out at their mother, and 
their mother does nothing to stop it. The children are not punished, 
and I never saw one of them beaten not even in pantomime except 
by way of a tease. Sometimes a child cries because he s hurt himself, 
because he s hungry, because he s had a quarrel, or because he doesn t 
want to have his fleas picked off but this last is rare: delousing seems 
to be as much fun for the patient as for the operator, and it is prized as 
a mark of interest and affection. A child or husband who feels in need 
of it will ky his head on the woman s knees, offering first one side and 
then the other. She will then parthishair, ridge by ridge, and peer through. 
A louse, once caught, is instantly eaten. Any child who cries during the 
proceedings is consoled by an older child or a member of his family. 

And so there s a delightful gaiety in the spectacle of a mother with 
her child. Sometimes she dangles an object in front of him through the 
straw walls of their hut and whips it away just as he reaches out for it: 
There you missed it! Grab it at the front or the back! Or else 
she takes up the child and with great shouts of kughter threatens to 
throw him down to the ground. Amdam nom tebu! I ll drop you! 
And the child pipes up: Nikui! No, please don t!* 

There s something correspondingly uneasy and exacting about the 
loving kindness with which die children surround their mother. They 
want to be quite sure that she gets her fair share of the spoils of tie 
hunt. The child has lived very dose to its mother. When they move 
camp she carries the child until it can walk; kter, it hurries along at her 
side. It stays with her in their camp, or their vilkge, while its father 

Family Life 275 

goes hunting. Eventually, however, certain distinctions of sex may be 
remarked. A father is more interested in his son than in his daughter, 
because his son has to be taught the techniques of manhood; and the 
same is true of mother and daughter. But the relations between father 
and children are marked by the tenderness and solicitude which I 
have described above; a father will take his child for a walk on his 
shoulder and carve for him weapons appropriate to his tiny arm. 

It s also the father s duty to tell his children the traditional legends of 
the tribe transposing them down, of course, in terms acceptable to the 
infant mind: Everyone was dead! No one left! Not one man! 
Nothing! Thus begins the South American children s version of the 
Flood in which all humanity was once engulfed. 

In cases of polygamy a special relationship exists between the child 
ren, of the first union and their youthful stepmothers: a free-and-easy 
comradeship which is extended to all the other girls in the group. Small 
in numbers as this group may be, there may none the less be distin 
guished within it a society of adolescent girls and young women who 
band together to go bathing in the river, troop off into the brushwood 
to satisfy the needs of Nature, organize smoking-parties, enjoy private 
jokes, and delight in games which we might consider in dubious taste 
taking it in turns, for instance, to squirt their saliva in each other s 
faces. The relationship between members of the band is a close one, and 
all prize it, but there is no great courtesy about it; in this it resembles 
our own schoolboy groups. Rarely will one of the girls render another 
a service or show her any particular attention; but one interesting 
result of it all should be remarked that the girls come to independence 
much more quickly than the boys. They follow the young women and 
take part in their activities, whereas the boys, left entirely to themselves, 
make timid and largely ineffective attempts to band together in the 
same way, remaining meanwhile mother-bound until their first child 
hood is over. 

The Nambikwara children know nothing of games. Sometimes 
they make toys of a kind out of rolled or plaited straw, but in general 
their only pastime is wrestling or some other form of shared physical 
exertion and their existence is one long imitation of the grown-ups. 
Little girls kre taught to spin, or left to play around, laugh among them 
selves, or fall asleep. Little boys of eight or ten begin to play with 
miniature bows and arrows and learn the rudiments of masculine 
activity. But girls and boys alike soon learn that the basic, and some 
times the tragic, preoccupation of Nambikwara life is how to get 

276 The Nambikwara 

enough to eat; and they learn that they are expected to take an active 
part in it- Collecting and gathering are tasks to which they lend them 
selves with great enthusiasm. When food runs short they can often be 
seen scavenging on the outskirts of the camp, digging away at roots 
or tiptoeing in the grass, stick in hand, in search of grasshoppers. The 
little girls know the role of their sex in the economic life of the tribe 
and are impatient to make themselves worthy of it. 

Once I met a litde girl who was carrying a puppy in the shoulder- 
carrier that her mother used for her litde sister. Seeing her, I said: 
Stroking your puppy-baby? And she replied, in all seriousness: When 
I m big I shall kill all the wild pigs and all the monkeys. I* 11 kill them 
every one when the dog barks! 

Actually she made a grammatical mistake which her father was 
delighted to point out. Instead of saying tilondage for when I m big* 
she used the masculine form: ihondage 9 , thus revealing a woman s 
feminine ambition to raise the economic activities which are peculiar 
to her sex to the level of those that are the privilege of manhood. As the 
precise sense of the phrase which she used was kill by a heavy blow 
with a dub or stick (a digging-stick, in this case) it would seem that 
she was unconsciously trying to identify the women s scrounging for 
food (their capture of, at most, very small animals) with the men s 
true hunting with bow and arrow. 

Another special relationship exists between those children whose 
degree of cousinage is such that they are allowed to call one another 
Husband and Wife . Sometimes thpy behave like a real married 
couple and, at nightfall, they leave the family circle, take a few warm 
logs into a corner of the camp, and light a fire. After which they set up 
house and demonstrate their affections, in so far as they can, just as 
their elders do; the grown-ups glance their way in amusement. 

I must also say a word about the household pets; these live in 
intimacy with the children and are indeed themselves treated as 
children. They share in the family meals and receive the same marks of 
interest or tenderness as do the human beings: their lice are picked for 
them, they take part in games, and people talk to them and caress them. 
The Nambikwara have a wide range of pets: dogs, first of all, and 
cocks and hens descendants of those introduced into the region by the 
Rondon Commission monkeys, parakeets, birds of many kinds, and 
even wild pigs, wild cats, and coatis. The dog alone serves a specific pur 
pose: it helps the women when they go hunting with sticks. (Men never 
use dogs when they go out with bow and arrow.) The other 

Family Life 277 

are reared purely as pets. They are never eaten; nor, for that matter, 
are the eggs which the hens lay in the undergrowth. But if a young * 
bird dies during the process of taming it is eaten without hesitation. 

When the Nambikwara move on, all the pets, save those able to 
walk, are included in their baggage. The monkeys get a firm hold in 
the women s hair, rising above it helmet-wise, with their tails wound 
round the bearer s neck for double security. Hens and parakeets perch 
on top of the baskets; other animals are carried bodily. None is very 
well fed; but all even when food is short get something. In return 
they act as fools and jesters to the company. 

To turn to the grown-ups: the Nambikwara attitude to matters of 
love can be summed up in their formula * Tamindige mondage, of which 
an exact if inelegant translation would be: It s good to make love/ 
Daily life is impregnated, as I have said, with eroticism. Love-matters 
arouse their interest and curiosity in the highest possible degree; they 
never tire of discussing them, and conversation in the camp is full of 
undertone and allusion. Most sexual activity takes place at night near 
the camp-fires, at times, but more often the partners go off a hundred 
yards or so into the neighbouring brushwood. Their departure, im 
mediately noticed, is the subject of widespread jubilation; jokes are 
made, speculations exchanged; even the children are carried away by 
an excitement whose origins they know perfectly well. Sometimes a 
little group of men, young women, and children will dart off, whisper 
ing and laughing the while, in pursuit of such glimpses of the proceed 
ings as they can secure through the branches. The protagonists don t at 
all care for this, but they have to put up with it, just as they have to put 
up with the teasing that will greet them as they return to the camp. 
Sometimes a second couple will follow their example and make off 
into the isolation of the bush. 

Yet these occasions are rare. Nor is their rarity due altogether to 
formal prohibition. The real obstacle would seem to lie rather in the 
Nambikwara temperament. Never in all the amorous exercises to 
which they devote themselves publicly and with such relish have I seen 
even the beginnings of an erection; and yet often they go quite far. The 
pleasure they seek would seem to be playful or sentimental, rather than 
direcdy physical. This is perhaps why the Nambikwara, in contrast to 
almost all the other populations . of central Brazil, wear the penis 
uncovered. It is in fact probable that the penis-sheath, when used, is 
intended not so much to prevent an erection as to make plain the 
peaceful condition of him who wears it. Peoples who live entirely 

278 The Nambikwara 

naked are not ignorant of what we call modesty : they simply have 
another frontier-line. Among the Brazilian Indians, as among certain 
Melanesian peoples, modesty has nothing to do with how much or how 
little of the body is exposed; tranquillity lies on one side of the frontier, 
agitation on the other. 

These nuances sometimes gave rise to misunderstandings between 
ourselves and the Indians for which neither side was responsible. It was 
difficult to remain indifferent to the pretty girls who would tease us as 
they sprawled in the sand at our feet, naked (and supple) as worms. 
When I went to bathe in the river I was often embarrassed by the 
onslaught of a group of five or six people, young or old, whose one 
object was to rob me of my soap, of which they were so particularly 
fond. These liberties extended to every aspect of daily life. Often I had 
to make the best of a hammock stained red by a native who had used it 
at siesta-time after painting her body with urucu. And when I was at 
work, sitting on the ground in the middle of a circle of informants, I 
sometimes felt a hand tugging at my shirt-tails; some woman was 
finding it easier to wipe her nose on my shirt than to go in search of the 
little branch, folded in two like a pair of pincers, that usually did duty 
in this respect* 

To understand the attitude of the sexes towards one another we 
must first bear in mind the fundamental character of the couple among 
tie Nambikwara. The couple is, both economically and psychologi 
cally, par excellence, the unit in Nambikwara life. Among these bands 
of nomads, where each band forms and re-forms unceasingly, the couple 
represents in theory at any rate stable reality. The couple forms, 
moreover, the only subsistence-unit known to the Nambikwara. They 
live, after all, in a double economy: fishing and gardening on the one 
hand, collecting and scavenging on the other. The man takes care of 
one, the woman of the other. While the men troop off for a day s hunt 
ing with bow and arrow, or, during the wet season, work in the garden, 
the women wander off, stick in hand, into the savannah with their 
children and fell upon everything that may come in useful for food: 
seeds, fruit, berries, roots, tubers, eggs, small animals of every sort. 
At the end of the day the couple reunites around the fire. When the 
manioc is ripe, and there is still some left, the man brings home a great 
load of roots and the woman shreds and presses them to make cakes. If 
the hunt has gone well the game is cut in pieces and cooked quickly 
beneath the hot ashes of the family fire. But for seven months of the 
year manioc is hardly ever seen; hunting is a matter of luck in this 

Family Life 279 

sandy desert where the game, such as it is, rarely stirs from the shaded 
pastures of the springs; between each spring and the next is a consider 
able expanse of largely inhospitable undergrowth. And so it s the 
women, with their gathering, who keep the family alive. 

I have often shared the grisly dolls dinners which, during half the 
year, are the Nambikwara s only means of not dying of hunger. When 
the man returns tired and silent from a fruitless day s hunting, the 
woman turns to her basket and brings out a touching collection of 
oddities: the orange-coloured fruit of the buriti palm, two large and 
poisonous spiders, a lizard or two and some of their tiny eggs, a bat, 
some little nuts from the bacaiuva or uaguassu palms, and a handful of 
locusts. The fleshed fruits are crushed by hand in a calabash filled with 
water, the nuts are broken open with a stone, and the animals and larvae 
bundled higgledy-piggledy in among the ashes; and all sit down gaily 
enough to a meal which, while it would barely take the edge offa white 
man s hunger, must here suffice for a whole family. 

The Nambikwara use the same word for young and for pretty , 
and the same one also for old and ugly . Their aesthetic judgments 
are based therefore on human, and above all on sexual, values. But the 
interest of one sex for the other is a complicated matter. Men regard 
women, comprehensively speaking, as not quite of the same stuff as 
themselves; their behaviour towards them is coloured by as the case 
may be desire, admiration, or tenderness. The terminological confusion 
on which I remarked above is in itself a form of homage. The sexual 
division of labour does of course give the woman a role of capital 
importance (since it is her collecting which, in large measure, keeps the 
family alive) ; but this collecting is none the less regarded as an inferior 
type of activity. The ideal life is seen in terms of hunting or farming: 
the possession of great quantities of manioc and game of superior size 
and quality is a dream continually cherished, though not often realized. 
Provender got together as luck wills it is regarded, quite rightly, as 
a miserable minimum. In Nambikwara folklore to eat locusts has in a 
much stronger degree the pejorative sense of our to take pot-luck . 
And it s the women and children who provide the locusts. 

In the same way a woman is regarded as a secondary possession: 
prized and loved, perhaps, but secondary. It s the custom among men 
to speak of women with pitying goodwill, and to address them with a 
slightly teasing indulgence. Men constantly say: Children don t know, 
and women don t know, but I do know ; and women in general, dofu, 
with their jokes and their endless talk, are the subject of much tender 

28o The Nambikwara 

mockery. But this is merely a social attitude. When the man and his 
woman are alone beside their fire he will listen to her complaints, take 
note of her wishes, and in his turn ask her help in a hundred-and-one 
little things; masculine braggadocio gives place to the collaboration of 
two partners who know very well that the one cannot get along without 
the other. 

This ambiguity in the men s attitude towards their women has its 
exact counterpart in the women s attitude towards their men. The 
women think of themselves as a distinct group. We ve already noticed 
that they do not speak as the men speak: this is true above all of young 
women, particularly when they have not yet had children, and of 
concubines. Among mothers and older women the differences are much 
less marked. Young women enjoy the society of children and adoles 
cents and amuse themselves a great deal in their company; and it s the 
women, too, who look after the animals with that humanity which 
characterizes certain South American Indians. All this creates around 
the women, within the interior of the group, a quite special atmosphere: 
at once childish, high-spirited, mannered, and provocative; and the 
men 611 in with this when they come back from hunting or gardening. 

But when the women turn to those activities which are their special 
preserve, their attitude becomes quite different. If it s a matter of work 
ing with their hands they manifest an exemplary skill and patience as 
they sit in a circle, back to back, in the hushed encampment. While 
travelling they loyally hump the heavy baskets which contain food for 
the journey, the family s combined belongings, and the arsenal of 
arrows. Their menfolk meanwhile inarch at the head of the column, 
bow at the ready, with one or two arrows merely and a wooden spear 
or digging-stick: their job is to spot the occasional fruit-tree or the 
animal that breaks cover; while the women, with their carriers head 
bands braced across their foreheads, and the long narrow basket (shaped 
like an overturned elongated bell) laid along their backs, march on for 
mile after mile with their characteristic gait: thighs held stiffly together, 
knees joined, ankles wide apart, and feet well forward, with the weight 
on the outer edge of the foot and their haunches swaying. They are 
brave women, and energetic, and gay. 

This contrast between the women s psychological attitude and their 
economic function is to be found also on the religious and philosophical 
plane. Relations between men and women among the Nambikwara 
oscillate between the two extremes around which their existence is 
organized: on the one hand the settled existence of the gardening period, 

Family Life 281 

based on the two masculine activities of hut-building and cultivation, 
and on the other the nomadic period, during which women are almost 
entirely responsible for the supply of food. One stands for security and 
a copious menu, the other for hazard and near-starvation. To these two 
forms of existence, winter and summer, the Nambikwara react in very 
different ways. They speak of winter with that melancholy that comes 
from the conscious and resigned acceptance of our human condition: 
a dismal doing-over-and-over of an unchanging routine. Summer on 
the other hand is a matter for excited discussion, with the element of 
discovery always present. 

Where metaphysics are concerned, these relationships are seen in 
reverse. The souls of Nambikwara men are incarnated, after death, in 
jaguars; but the souls of women and children vanish into the air and 
no more is heard or seen of them. This distinction explains why women 
are excluded from the more sacred ceremonies: these are held at the 
beginning of the cultivation period and consist in the manufacture of 
bamboo flutes fed with offerings; the men play on these instruments, 
after first withdrawing out of sight of the women. 

Although the flutes were, as it were, out of season , I was very 
anxious to hear them played and to acquire a few of them. A group of 
men, yielding to my insistence, set off on an expedition to the distant 
forest in which the big bamboos were to be found. Three or four days 
later the returning travellers woke me up in the middle of the night; 
they had waited for the women to go safely to sleep. We all trooped 
off to a point about a hundred yards distant, where bushes hid us from 
the rest of the camp, and the men set to work to construct their flutes. 
When they were ready, four players struck up in unison; but as the 
flutes were not quite in tune the effect was one of some harmonic 
illusion. The tune was different from the Nambikwara songs with 
which I had become familiar. (The melodic structure of these songs 
reminded me of the rondes of the French countryside.) They differed 
also from the strident calls which could sometimes be heard on the 
three-holed nose-ocarina which was made up of two fragments of a 
calabash stuck together with wax. The range of the flageolets was 
restricted to a few notes, but the tunes were marked by a chromaticism 
and rhythmic resource which seemed to me strikingly similar to certain 
passages in Stravinsky s Sacre du Printemps notably to the woodwind 
modulations in the passage entitled Action rituelle des an^etres . Any 
woman who ventured upon the scene would have been struck down at 
once. As with the Bororo, the women are the subject of a veritable 

282 The Nambikwara 

metaphysical curse; but the women of the Nambikwara differ from 
those of the Bororo in that they do not enjoy special status in law 
although it seems that among the Nambikwara descent also follows the 
maternal line. In a society as little organized as theirs, these tendencies 
remain a matter of implication, and the synthesis operates on a basis of 
informal practice and non-crystallized attitudes. 

When the men describe the kind of life which is summed up in 
the temporary shelter and the everlasting basket-load, they speak as 
tenderly as if they were caressing their wives. Each day they extract, 
collect, or capture the most incongruous means of subsistence. They 
live exposed to rain, wind, and cold. And this existence leaves behind 
it no more trace than the spirits, dispersed by wind and storm, of the 
women on whose activity it fundamentally resides. They conceive of 
their sedentary life quite differently, though its specific and ancient 
character is attested by the original species which they cultivate. The 
unchanging sequence of agricultural activity confers on the sedentary- 
life a perpetuity identical with that of the reincarnated spirits of the 
men, die long-lasting winter-house, and the gardens which will go on 
living and producing when the death of the farmer s predecessor will 
have been forgotten . 

Perhaps this explains the extraordinary instability of the Nambik 
wara, and the speed with which they pass from cordiality to hostility? 
The few observers who have got near to them have all been struck by 
this. The Utiarity band was the one that, five years earlier, had mur 
dered a group of missionaries. My male informants took pleasure in 
describing this incident, and disputed with one another for the honour 
of having struck the decisive blows. I must admit that I couldn t blame 
them for it. I ve known many missionaries. Some, certainly, had great 
merits both as men of science and as human beings. But the American 
Protestant missions which tried to penetrate the central Mato Grosso 
around the year 1930 were of a kind all their own. They came from 
peasant families in Nebraska or Dakota and, as adolescents, had been 
brought up to believe literally in hell-fire and cauldrons of boiling oil. 
Some of them became missionaries in the way that other people take 
out an insurance policy. Once assured of their salvation they felt no need 
to do anything else to deserve it; and in the exercise of their profession 
they were often revoltingly hard and inhuman. 

How did the massacre come about? That I discovered as the result 
of a piece of awkwardness which nearly got me into serious trouble. 
The Nambikwara are accomplished toxicologists. They manufacture 

Family Life 283 

curare for their arrow-heads, for instance, beginning with an infusion 
made from the red skin which covers the roots of certain strychnos , this 
they heat over a fire until the mixture attains the consistency of a paste. 
They also employ other vegetable poisons, and carry them about with 
them in feather or bamboo tubes, wrapped round with cotton thread 
or bark. These poisons are used to avenge hurts, whether amorous or 
commercial; I shall have more to say of them. 

These are poisons of a scientific sort, whose manufacture is carried 
out quite openly, with none of the precautions and magical complexities 
which surround the making of curare in more northerly regions. The 
Nambikwara have also others, more mysterious in their nature. In 
tubes identical with those used for authentic poisons, they collect 
particles of the resin exuded by a tree of the genus bombax, whose trunk 
swells out half-way up. They believe that if they project one of these 
particles on to an adversary, he will take on the physical condition of 
the tree: swell up, that is to say, and die. Authentic poisons and magical 
substances are alike designated by the name of nande, which goes far 
beyond the narrow meaning of our poison . It connotes, in fact, every 
kind of threatening action as well as all the products or instruments 
which may be useful when such action is taken. 

I had in my luggage a few of those large and many-coloured silk- 
paper balloons that are used by the thousand in Brazil on the feast-day 
of St John. (You fill them withhot air by fixing a little torch underneath 
them.) One evening I had the unhappy idea of showing the natives 
how they worked. The first balloon caught fire on the ground 
an incident which was received with general laughter, it being clear 
that they had no idea of what ought to have happened. The second 
balloon went off all too well, mounting rapidly into the upper air and 
eventually mingling its tiny flame with those of the stars; after vaga 
bonding above us for some time it disappeared. The spectators mean 
while had ceased to be amused. Quite other sentiments overcame them; 
the men watched fixedly and in great annoyance, while the women 
cowered together in terror, hiding their heads in their arms. I heard the 
word nan de used over and over again. The next morning a deputation 
of the men came to see me, demanding to inspect my stock of balloons 
and make sure that no nande was hidden among them. The inspection 
was extremely thorough; thanks, however, to the Nambikwara s 
remarkably positive turn of mind (despite all that I have just said) my 
demonstration, with the aid of a fire and a few shreds of paper, of the 
power of hot air to make objects rise, was, if not understood, at any 

284 The Nambikwara 

rate accepted. As usually happened when something had to be excused, 
the whole thing was blamed on the women who understood nothing , 
had got the wind up , and were in terror of calamities of every kind. 
I wasn t deceived: things might well have turned out very badly 
indeed. Yet neither this incident nor others which I shall describe later 
could detract from the filings of friendship which the Nambikwara 
inspire in those, and those only, who live in intimacy with them for a 
considerable period. I was therefore amazed to read the description 
given by a foreign colleague of his encounter with the same band of 
natives that I had known, ten years previously, at Utiarity. When he 
went there in 1949 two missions were working there: the Jesuits of 
whom I have spoken, and some American Protestants. The native band 
had dwindled to eighteen: this is what our author has to say about them: 

* Of all the Indians which I have visited in the Mato Grosso, the 
members of this band of the Nambikwara were the most miserable. 
Of the eight men, one had syphilis, another had some kind of infec 
tion in his side, another had an injured foot, another was covered 
with some kind of scaly disease from head to foot, and another was 
deaf and dumb. The women and children, however, appeared to 
be healthy. Owing to the fact that they use no hammocks but sleep 
on the ground, they are always covered with dirt. On cold nights 
they remove the fires and sleep in the warm ashes. . . . They wear 
clothes only when they are given by the missionaries, who ask that 
they be worn. Their distaste for bathing permits not only a covering 
of dust and ashes to accumulate on their skins and hair but also 
particles of decayed meat and fish which, combined with stale 
sweat, makes proximity to them rather distasteful. They also appear 
to be heavily infected with internal parasites, for their stomachs are 
distended and they are continually passing wind. On several 
occasions when a number of them had crowded into the small room 
we used for working we had to cease work in order to air the room. 

The Nambikwara are surly and impolite even to rudeness. On 
many occasions when I went to visit Julio at his camp he was lying 
down near a fire and, as he saw me approach, he turned his back to 
me, sayinghedidnotwantto talk. The missionaries informed me that 
a Nambikwara will ask for some object several times, and if it is not 
given he will try to take it. In order to keep the Indians out they 
would sometimes dose the screen door, but if a Nambikwara really 
wanted to enter he would tear a hole in the screen and walk in. ... 

Family Life 285 

One does not have to remain long among the Nambikwara in 
order to feel this underlying hatred, mistrust and despair, which 
create in the observer a feeling of depression not unmixed with 
sympathy/ 1 

When I myself had known them, the diseases introduced by white 
men had already decimated them; but there had not been, since 
Rondon s always humane endeavours, any attempt to enforce their 
submission. I should prefer to forget Mr Oberg s harrowing description 
and remember the Nambikwara as they appear in a page from my 
notebooks. I wrote it one night by the light of my pocket-lamp: 

The camp-fires shine out in the darkened savannah. Around the 
hearth which is their only protection from the cold, behind the 
flimsy screen of foliage and palm-leaves which has been stuck into 
the ground where it will best break the force of wind and rain, 
beside the baskets filled with the pitiable objects which comprise all 
their earthly belongings, the Nambikwara he on the bare earth. 
Always they are haunted by the thought of other groups, as fearful 
and hostile as they are themselves, and when they lie entwined 
together, couple by couple, each looks to his mate for support and 
comfort and finds in the other a bulwark, the only one he knows, 
against the difficulties of every day and the meditative melancholia 
which from time to time overwhelms the Nambikwara. The visitor 
who camps among the Indians for the first time cannot but feel 
anguish and pity at the sight of a people so totally dis-provided for; 
beaten down into the hostile earth, it would seem, by an implacable 
cataclysm; naked and shivering beside their guttering fires. He 
gropes his way among the bushes, avoiding where he can the hand, 
or the arm, or the torso that lies gleaming in the firelight. Laughing 
whispers can still make light of the Nambikwara s poverty. Their 
embraces are those of couples possessed by a longing for a lost one 
ness; their caresses are in no wise disturbed by the footfall of a 
stranger. In one and all there may be glimpsed a great sweetness of 
nature, a profound nonchalance, an animal satisfaction as ingenuous 
as it is charming, and, beneath all this, something that can be 
recognized as one of the most moving and authentic manifestations 
of human tenderness. 

1 K. Oberg, Indian Tribes of the Northern Mato Crosso, Brazil Smithsonian Institution, 
Institute of Social Anthropology. Publ. no. 15, Washington 1953. PP- 84-85. 

25 A Writing Lesson 


WANTED somehow to arrive at a figure, however 
approximate, for the total of the Nambikwara population. In 1915 
Rondon had put it at twenty thousand, which was probably too high. 
But at that time the nomadic bands were of several hundred people 
apiece, and all the indications I had collected along the line pointed to a 
rapid decline. Thirty years ago, for instance, the known fraction of the 
Sabane group comprised more than a thousand individuals; when that 
same group visited the telegraph station of Campos Novos in 1928 it 
consisted of one hundred and twenty-seven men, plus their women and 
children. In November 1929, moreover, an influenza epidemic broke 
out when the group was camping at the point known as Espirro. The 
disease turned into a form of pulmonary oedema, and three hundred 
Indians died of it within forty-eight hours. The whole group disinte 
grated, leaving the sick and dying to fend for themselves. Of the thousand 
Sabane who had once been known of, only nineteen men and their 
families were still alive in 193 8 . This decline is due not only to the epidemic, 
but also to the fact that some years ago the Sabane were in a state of war 
with some of their easterly neighbours. But a large group installed not 
far from Tres Buritis was wiped out by influenza in 1927: of the six or 
seven survivors, only three were still alive in 1938. The Tarunde group, 
once one of the largest, numbered twelve men, with their families, in 
1936: three years later these twelve were reduced to four. 

What was the position at the time of my arrival? Probably a bare 
two thousand Indians were scattered about the territory. I could not 
hope to make a systematic count, because certain groups were always 
hostile, and because, during the nomadic season, all the bands were con 
tinually on the move. But I tried to persuade my friends at Utiarity to 
take me to their village at a time when a rendezvous had been arranged 
with other allied or related bands. Thus I hoped to estimate the present 


A Writing Lesson 287 

siize of a gathering of this sort and to compare it with the reunions that 
had been scrutinized in earlier years. I promised to bring them presents, 
and effect some exchanges, but the leader of the band remained hesitant: 
he was not sure of his guests, and if my companions and I were to dis 
appear in the region where no white men had penetrated since the 
incident of the seven telegraph-workers in 1925, then the precarious 
peace which existed there would be compromised for a long time to 

In the end he agreed, on condition that we cut down the size of our 
party, and took only four oxen to carry our presents. Even so, he said, 
we should have to forswear the usual tracks, because our beasts would 
never get through the dense vegetation which abounded in the lower 
reaches of each valley. We should have to go by the plateau, improvis 
ing our route as we went along. 

This was a very dangerous expedition, but it now seems to me 
largely grotesque. We had hardly left Juruena when my Brazilian 
colleague remarked to me on the absence of the Nambikwara women 
and children: only the men were with us, each armed with bow and 
arrows. All the literature of travel indicated this as a sign that an attack 
was imminent. Our feelings were mixed, therefore, as we went for ward, 
verifying from time to time the position of our Smith and Wesson 
revolvers ( Cemite Vechetone was our men s name for them) and our 
rifles. These fears proved misplaced: towards the half-way point of the 
day s march we caught up with the remainder of the band, whom their 
provident chief had sent on ahead of us, the day before, knowing that 
our mules would make much better time than the women, laden as 
these were with their baskets and encumbered with little children. 

Soon after this, however, the Indians got lost. The new itinerary 
was not as straightforward as they had supposed. Towards evening we 
had to come to a halt in the bush. We had been promised that there 
would be game thereabouts and the Indians, counting on our rifles, 
had brought no food with them. We, for our part, had brought only 
emergency rations which could not be shared out all round. A troop 
of deer which had been nibbling away at the edge of a spring fled at our 
approach. The next morning everybody was in a thoroughly bad 
humour: ostensibly, this took for its object the leader of the band, 
whom they considered to be responsible for the venture which he and I 
had devised between us. Instead of going off to hunt or collect wild 
food on their own account, they decided to spend the day lying in the 
shade, leaving it to their leader to find the solution to their problem. 

288 The Nambikwara 

He went off, accompanied by one of his wives: towards evening we saw 
them coming back with their baskets heavy-laden with grasshoppers 
that they had spent the entire day in collecting. Grasshopper pie is not 
one of their favourite dishes, but the entire party fell on it, none the less, 
with relish. Good humour broke out on all sides, and on the next 
morning we got under way again. 

And, at last, we got to the rendezvous. This was a sandy terrace 
above a watercourse, bordered with trees between which the Indians 
had laid out some little gardens. Incoming groups arrived at intervals 
during the day and by the evening there were seventy-five people in 
all: seventeen families, grouped under thirteen crude shelters hardly 
more solid than those which served in camp. I was told that when the 
rains began the whole company would take refuge in five round huts 
built for several months wear. Many of the natives seemed never to 
have seen a white man, and their more than dubious welcome combined 
with their leader s extreme nervousness seemed to suggest that he had 
forced their hand, somewhat, in the whole matter. Neither we nor the 
Indians felt at all at our ease and, as there were no trees, we had to lie, 
like the Nambikwaras, on the bare ground. No one slept: we kept, all 
night long, a polite watch upon one another. 

It would have been rash to prolong the adventure, and I suggested 
to the leader that we should get down to our exchanges without further 
delay. It was then that there occurred an extraordinary incident which 
forces me to go back a little in time. That the Nambikwara could not 
write goes without saying. But they were also unable to draw, except 
for a few dots and zigzags on their calabashes. I distributed pencils and 
paper among them, none the less, as I had done with the Caduveo. At 
first they made no use of them. Then, one day, I saw that they were all 
busy drawing wavy horizontal lines on the paper. What were they 
trying to do? I could only conclude that they were writing or, more 
exactly, that they were trying to do as I did with my pencils. As I had 
never tried to amuse them with drawings, they could not conceive of 
any other use for this implement. With most of them, that was as far as 
they got: but their leader saw further into the problem. Doubtless he 
was the only one among them to have understood what writing was 
for. So he asked me for one of my notepads; and when we were work 
ing together he did not give me his answers in words, but traced a wavy 
line or two on the paper and gave it to me, as if I could read what he had 
to say. He himself was all but deceived by his own play-acting. Each 
time he drew a line he would examine it with great care, as if its mean- 

A Writing Lesson 289 

iiig must suddenly leap to the eye; and every time a look of disappoint 
ment came over his face. But he would never give up trying, and there 
was an unspoken agreement between us that his scribblings had a 
meaning that I did my best to decipher; his own verbal commentary 
was so prompt in coming that I had no need to ask him to explain what 
he had written. 

And now, no sooner was everyone assembled than he drew forth 
from a basket a piece of paper covered with scribbled lines and pretended 
to read from it. With a show of hesitation he looked up and down his 
list for the objects to be given in exchange for his people s presents. 
So-and-so was to receive a machete in return for his bow and arrows, 
and another a string of beads in return for his necklaces and so on for 
two solid hours. What was he hoping for? To deceive himself perhaps: 
but, even more, to amaze his companions and persuade them that his 
intermediacy was responsible for the exchanges. He had allied himself 
with the white man, as equal with equal, and could now share in his 
secrets. We were in a hurry to get away, since there would obviously 
be a moment of real danger at which all the marvels I had brought 
would have been handed over. ... So I did not go further into the 
matter and we set off on the return journey, still guided by the 

There had been something intensely irritating about our abortive 
meeting, and about the mystifications of which I had just been the un 
knowing instrument. Added to that, my mule was suffering from 
aphtha, and its mouth was causing it pain, so that by turns it hurried 
inpatiendy forward and stopped dead in its tracks. We got into a 
quarrel with one another and, quite suddenly, without realizing how it 
happened, I found myself alone, and lost, in the middle of the bush. 

What was I to do? What people do in books: fire a shot in die air 
to let my companions know what had happened. I dismounted and did 
so. No reply. I fired again, and as there seemed to be an answer I fired a 
third shot. This scared my mule, who went off at a trot and pulled up 
some distance away. 

I put weapons and photographic equipment neady at the foot of a 
tree, memorized its position, and ran off to recapture my mule, who 
seemed quite peaceably disposed. He let me get right up to him and 
then, just as I reached for the reins, he made off at full speed. This 
happened more than once until in despair I jumped at him and threw 
both my arms round his tail. This unusual proceeding took him by sur 
prise, and he decided to give in. Back in the saddle, I made as if to 

290 The Nambikwara 

collect my belongings, only to find that we had twisted and turned so 
often that I had no idea where they were* 

Demoralized by this episode, I decided to rejoin our troop. Neither 
my mule nor I knew where they had gone. Sometimes I would head 
him in a direction that he refused to take; sometimes I would let him 
lead, only to find that he was simply turning in a circle. The sun was 
going down, I was no longer armed, and I expected at every moment to 
be the target of a volley of arrows. I was not, admittedly, the first white 
man to penetrate that hostile zone. But none of my predecessors had 
come back alive and, quite apart from myself, my mule was a tempting 
prey for people who rarely have anything very much to get their teeth 
into. These dark thoughts passed, one by one, through my mind as I 
waited for the sun to go down, thinking that since I at least had some 
matches with me I could start a bush-fire. Just as I was about to strike 
the first match I heard voices: two of the Nambikwara had turned back, 
the moment my absence was noticed, and had been following me all 
afternoon. For them to recover my equipment was child s play and, at 
nightfall, they led me to the camp where our whole troop was waiting 
for me. 

Still tormented by this absurd incident, I slept badly. To while 
away the hours I went back, in my mind, to the scene of the previous 
morning. So the Nambikwara had learnt what it meant to write! But 
not at all, as one might have supposed, as the result of a laborious 
apprenticeship. The symbol had been borrowed, but the reality re 
mained quite foreign to them. Even the borrowing had had a socio 
logical, rather than an intellectual object: for it was not a question of 
knowing specific things, or understanding them, or keeping them in 
mind, but merely of enhancing the prestige and authority of one 
individual or one function at the expense of the rest of the party. A 
native, still in the period of the stone age, had realized that even if he 
could not himself understand the great instrument of understanding he 
could at least make it serve other ends. For thousands of years, after all, 
and still today in a great part of the world, writing has existed as an 
institution in societies in which the vast majority of people are quite 
unable to write. The villages where I stayed in the Chittagong frills in 
Pakistan are populated by illiterates; yet each village has a scribe who 
fulfils his function for the benefit both of individual citizens and of the 
village as a whole. They all know what writing is and, if need be, can 
write: but they do it from outside as if it were a mediator, foreign to 
themselves, with whom they communicate by an oral process. But the 

A Writing Lesson 291 

scribe is rarely a functionary or an employee of the group as a whole; 
his knowledge is a source of power so much so, in fact, that the func 
tions of scribe and usurer are often united in the same human being. 
This is not merely because the usurer needs to be able to read and write 
to carry on his trade, but because he has thus a twofold empire over his 

Writing is a strange thing. It would seem as if its appearance could 
not have failed to wreak profound changes in the living conditions of 
our race, and that these transformations must have been above all 
intellectual in character. Once men know how to write, they are 
enormously more able to keep in being a large body of knowledge. 
Writing might, that is to say, be regarded as a form of artificial memory, 
whose development should be accompanied by a deeper knowledge of 
the past and, therefore, by a greater ability to organize the present and 
the future. Of all the criteria by which people habitually distinguish 
civilization from barbarism, this should be the one most worth retain 
ing: that certain peoples write and others do not. The first group can 
accumulate a body of knowledge that helps it to move ever faster to 
wards the goal that it has assigned to itself; the second is confined within 
limits that the memory of individuals can never hope to extend, and it 
must remain the prisoner of a history worked out from day to day, 
with neither a clear knowledge of its own origins nor a consecutive 
idea of what its future should be. 

Yet nothing of what we know of writing, or of its role in evolution, 
can be said to justify this conception. One of the most creative phases 
in human history took place with the onset of the neolithic era: agri 
culture and the domestication of animals are only two of the develop 
ments which may be traced to this period. It must have had behind it 
thousands of years during which small societies of human beings were 
noting, experimenting, and passing on to one another the fruits of their 
knowledge. The very success of this immense enterprise bears witness 
to the rigour and the continuity of its preparation, at a time when 
writing was quite unknown. If writing first made its appearance be 
tween die fourth and third millennium before our era, we must see it 
not, in any degree, as a conditioning factor in the neolothic revolution, 
but rather as an already-distant and doubtless indirect result of that 
revolution. With what great innovation can it be linked? Where 
technique is concerned, architecture alone can be called into question. 
Yet the architecture of the Egyptians or the Sumerians was no better 
than the work of certain American Indians who, at the time America 

292 The Nambikwara 

was discovered, were ignorant of writing. Conversely, between the 
invention of writing and the birth of modern science, the western world 
has lived through some five thousand years, during which time the sum 
of its knowledge has rather gone up and down than known a steady 
increase. It has often been remarked that there was no great difference 
between the life of a Greek or Roman citizen and that of a member 
of the well-to-do European classes in the eighteenth century. In the 
neolithic age, humanity made immense strides forward without any 
help from writing; and writing did not save the civilizations of the 
western world from long periods of stagnation. Doubtless the scientific 
expansion of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries could hardly have 
occurred, had writing not existed. But this condition, however neces 
sary, cannot in itself explain that expansion. 

If we want to correlate the appearance of writing with certain other 
characteristics of civilization, we must look elsewhere. The one pheno 
menon which has invariably accompanied it is the formation of cities 
and empires: the integration into a political system, that is to say, of a 
considerable number of individuals, and the distribution of those indi 
viduals into a hierarchy of castes and classes. Such is, at any rate, the 
type of development which we find, from Egypt right across to China, 
at the moment when writing makes its debuts; it seems to favour rather 
the exploitation than the enlightenment of mankind. This exploitation 
made it possible to assemble workpeople by the thousand and set them 
tasks that taxed them to the limits of their strength: to this, surely, we 
must attribute the beginnings of architecture as we know it. If my 
hypothesis is correct, the primary function of writing, as a means of 
communication, is to facilitate the enslavement of other human beings. 
The use of writing for disinterested ends, and with a view to satisfactions 
of the mind in the fields either of science or the arts, is a secondary 
result of its invention and may even be no more than a way of reinforc 
ing, justifying, or dissimulating its primary function. 

There are, however, exceptions to this rule. Ancient Africa included 
empires in which several hundred thousand subjects acknowledged a 
single rule; in pre-Colombian America, the Inca empire numbered 
several million subjects. But, alike in Africa and in America, these 
ventures were notably unstable: we know, for instance, that the Inca 
empire was established in the twelfth century or thereabouts. Pizarro s 
soldiers would never have conquered it so easily if it had not already, 
three centuries later, been largely decomposed. And, from the little we 
know of the ancient history of Africa, we can divine an analogous 

A Writing Lesson 293 

situation: massive political groups seem to have appeared and dis 
appeared within the space of not many decades. It may be, therefore, 
that these instances confirm, instead of refuting, our hypothesis, 
Writing may not have sufficed to consolidate human knowledge, but 
it may well have been indispensable to the establishment of an enduring 
dominion. To bring the matter nearer to our own time: the European- 
wide movement towards compulsory education in the nineteenth 
century went hand in hand with the extension of military service and 
the systematization of the proletariat. The struggle against illiteracy is 
indistinguishable, at times, from the increased powers exerted over the 
individual citizen by the central authority. For it is only when everyone 
can read that Authority can decree that ignorance of the law is no 

All this moved rapidly from the national to the international fefd, 
thanks to the mutual complicity which sprang up between new-bom 
states confronted as these were with the problems that had been our 
own, a century or two ago and an international society of peoples 
long privileged. These latter recognize that their stability may well be 
endangered by nations whose knowledge of the written word has not, 
as yet, empowered them to think in formulae which can be modified at 
will. Such nations are not yet ready to be *edified*; and when they are 
first given the freedom of the library shelves they are perilously 
vulnerable to the ever more deliberately misleading effects of the printed 
word. Doubtless the die is already cast, in that respect. But in my 
Nambikwara village people were not so easily taken in. Shortly after 
my visit the leader lost the confidence of most of his people. Those 
who moved away from him, after he had tried to play the civilized man, 
must hkve had a confused understanding of the fact that writing, on this 
its first appearance in their midst, had allied itself with falsehood; and 
so they had taken refuge, deeper in the bush, to win themselves a 
respite. And yet I could not but admire the genius of their leader, for he 
had divined in a flash that writing could redouble his hold upon the 
others and, in so doing, he had got, as it were, to the bottom of an 
institution which he did not as yet know how to work. The episode 
also drew my attention to a further aspect of Nambikwara life: the 
political relations between individuals and groups. This I was shortly to 
be able to scrutinize more direcdy. 

We were still at Utiarity when an epidemic of purulent ophthalmia 
broke out among the natives. This infection, gonococchic in origin, 
soon spread to every one of them. Apart from being terribly painful, it 

294 The Nambikwara 

led to what threatened to be permanent blindness. For several days the 
entire band was paralysed. They treated their eyes with water, in which 
a certain kind of bark had been soaked: this they introduced into the eye 
with the help of leaves rolled into the shape of a funnel. The disease 
spread to my own group. My wife was the first to catch it. She had 
taken part in all our previous expeditions and had taken her full share 
in the study of material culture: but now she was so seriously ill that 
I had to send her back home. Most of our bearers went sick, and so 
did my Brazilian associate. Before long it was out of the question to go 
any farther. I ordered the main body of our party to rest, left our 
doctor behind to do what he could for them, and myself pushed on 
with two men and a few animals to the station of Campos Novos, 
near which a number of Indian bands had been reported. There I spent 
a fortnight in semi-idleness, picking the barely ripe fruit of an orchard 
which had c gone back to Nature : guavas whose bitter taste and stony 
texture belied the promise of their scent; caju, vivid in colour as any 
parakeet, with a flesh that concealed within its spongy cells an astringent, 
delicately flavoured juice. And when the larder was empty we had only 
to get up at dawn and make our way to a thicket, a few hundred yards 
from the camp, where woodr-pigeons would turn up, sharp on time 
every day, and offer themselves as our prey. At* Campos Novos, too, 
I met two bands which had arrived from the north, drawn by the 
rumour of the presents I had brought with me. 

These two bands were as ill disposed towards one another as they 
were towards me. From the outset, my gifts were not so much solicited 
as exacted. During the first few days only one of the bands was in 
evidence, together with a native from the Utiarity group who had gone 
on ahead of me. Did he show too much interest in a young woman who 
belonged to our hosts group? I believe he did. Relations were bad, 
almost from the start, between the strangers and their visitor, and he 
dropped into the habit of coming over to my camp in search of a more 
cordial welcome. He also shared my meals. This fact was taken note of: 
and one day when he was out hunting I was visited by a delegation of 
four Indians. There was a distinct menace in the tone of voice in which 
they urged me to put poison into his food. They would bring me all 
that I needed: four little tubes bound together with cotton and filled 
with grey powder. I was very much put out: yet, as an outright refusal 
would turn the whole band against me, I felt it best to go carefully, in 
view of their maleficent intentions. So I decided to know less of their 
language than I really did. Faced with my look of total inconipre- 

A Writing Lesson 29$ 

hension, the Indians repeated to me over and over again that my guest 
was kakorl, very wicked, and that I should get rid of him as socm as 
possible. Eventually they made off, with every sign of discontentment. 
I warned my guest of what had occurred, and lie at once took to his 
heels; not till months later, when I revisited the region, did I see him 

Luddly the second band arrived on the following day, giving the 
Indians a new target for their hostility. The meeting took place at my 
camp, which was both neutral ground and the terminal-point of thek 
respective journeyings. I had, therefore, a front seat in tie stalk Hie 
men of each party came up on their own; a lengthy conversation 
followed between their respective leaders, consisting mainly of mono 
logues, in alternation, on a plaintive, nasal note that I did not remember 
having encountered before. We are very angry! 5 one group kept on 
whining. *You are our enemies! To which the others replied: *We are 
not at all angry! We are your brothers! Friends! We can understand 
each other! and so on. Once this exchange of protests and provoca 
tions was over, a common camp was set up, dose to my own. After 
some dancing and singing, during which each group played down its 
own contribution and glorified that of its adversaries The Tamainde 
sang so well! And we sing so badly 1 / quarrelling began again, and 
before long tempers began to run high. The night had hardly begun 
when the noise of argument-cum-singingset up a tremendous row, tie 
significance of which was lost upon me. Threatening gestures could be 
seen, and once or twice men actually came to blows and had to be 
separated. The menaces consisted, in every case, of gestures relating in 
some way to thesexual organs. ANambikwarashowshostility by taking 
his penis in both hands and pointing it towards his adversary . This is the 
prelude to an attack on the adversary in question, with a view to 
wrenching off the tuft of Jmriti straw that hangs down from the front 
of his belt, just above his private parts. These parts are hidden by the 
straw and the point of fighting is to get the other man s straw away 
from him. This is an entirely symboEc action, for the masculine cache- 
sexe is so fragile, and in any case so insubstantial, that it serves neither to 
protect nor, in any true sense, to dissimulate the parts in question. 
Another mark of victory is to wrest your opponent s bow and 
arrows from htm and put them down some distance away. At^all 
such times the Indians take on attitudes of extreme intensity, as if 
in a state of violent contained rage. Eventually these individual 
quarrels end up in a general pitched battle. But on this occasion they 

296 The Nambikwara 

died down at dawn. Still in the same state of evident exasperation, and 
with the roughest of gestures, the adversaries began to scrutinize one 
another closely, fingering an ear-ring here and a cotton bracelet or 
feathered ornament there, and muttering rapidly throughout: Give . . . 
give . . . give . . . look at that . . . how pretty! to which the owner 
would reply: *No, no ... it s ugly, old, worn-out. . . . 

This reconciliatory inspection marks the end of the conflict. It intro 
duces, as between the two groups, another kind of relationship: that of 
the commercial exchange. The material culture of the Nambikwara 
may be of the rudest, but each band s manufactures are, none the less, 
highly prized in the outer world. Those in the east are short of pottery 
and seed-beads. Those in the north consider that their southerly neigh 
bours make particularly beautiful necklaces. The meeting of two 
groups, once established upon a pacific level, will therefore engender a 
whole series of reciprocal gifts: the battlefield turns into a market-place. 

But the exchanges go forward almost imperceptibly: the morning 
after the quarrelling everyone went about his normal occupations, and 
objects or products changed hands without either donor or recipient 
making any outward allusion to what was going forward. Balls of 
thread and raw cotton; lumps of wax or resin; urucu paste; shells, ear 
rings, bracelets, and necklaces; tobacco and seed-beads; feathers and 
strips of bamboo that could be made into arrowheads; bunches of palm- 
fibres and porcupine-quills; complete pots and potsherds; calabashes. 
This mysterious traffic went on until the day was half over, when the 
two groups separated and went off, each on his own way. 

The Nambikwara leave everything, on such occasions, to the gener 
osity of their opposite number*. Totally foreign to them is the notion 
that anyone could set a price on any object, discuss that price, haggle 
over it, insist on getting it, or chalk it up as a debt. I once offered an 
Indian a forest-knife in return for his having carried a message to a 
nearby group. When he came back I did not immediately give him the 
knife, because I assumed that he would come and ask for it. But nothing 
of the kind: and the next day I couldn t find him anywhere. His friends 
told me that he had gone away in a rage, and I never saw him again. I 
had to entrust the present to another Indian. This being so, it is not sur 
prising that when the exchanges are over one side or the other is often 
discontented with the result; and that, as weeks and then months go by, 
and he counts up, over and over again, the presents he received, and 
compares them with those he has given, he becomes more and more 
bitter. Often this bitterness turns to aggression. Many a war has broken 

A Writing Lesson 297 

out for no other reason. There are other causes, of coarse: a murder, or 
a rape to be either brought off or avenged It does not seem as if a band 
feels itself bound to take collective reprisals for an injury done to any 
one of its members. But such is the animosity which reigns between 
groups that often every advantage is taken of preteads of this HTM^ 
especially if the group in question feels itself in a strong position. The 
case is then presented by a warrior, who sets out his grievances in the 
same tone and in much the style of the encounter-ritual: Hallo there! 
Come here! Now look here Tin very angry! Really very angry 
indeed! Arrows! Big arrows! 

Specially dressed for the occasion tufts of bttriti straw striped with 
red, jaguar-skin helmets the men assemble behind their leader and 
dance. A divinatory rite must be observed: the chie or the sorcerer, if 
one exists, hides an arrow in a corner of the bush. The next day die men 
search for the arrow and, if it is stained with blood, war is declared: if 
not, they call it all off. Many expeditions that begin in this way come to 
an end after a few miles march. The war-party loses all its enthusiasm 
and excitement and turns back towards home. But sometimes the 
venture is pressed to its conclusion, and blood is shed. The Nambikwara 
attack at dawn, after having first scattered to create the conditions of an 
ambush. The signal to attack passes from man to man by means of the 
whistle that each carries round his necL This whistle, made up of two 
tubes of bamboo tied together with cotton, makes a noise like that of 
the cricket and, doubtless for that reason, bears the same name. The 
war-arrows are those used in peace-time for hunting the bigger game, bet 
their points are cut to a saw-edge. Arrows poisoned with curare, though 
common in hunting, are never used in battle, because anyone wounded 
by one of them would get it out before the poison had had time to get 
into his veins. 

26 Men, Women, and Chiefs 


BEYOND Campos Novos, at the highest point of 
the plateau, was the post of Vilhena. In 1938 it consisted of a few huts 
in the middle of a lengthy clearing several hundred yards wide. This 
clearing marked the point at which the builders of the line had hoped 
that the Chicago of the Mato Grosso would one day be built. I believe 
it is now a military airfield, but in my time its only inhabitants were two 
families who had not had any supplies of food for the previous eight 
years. They it was who, as I described earlier, had managed to keep in 
biological equilibrium with the herd of deer which provided them with 
a modest living. 

There I met two new nomadic bands. One of them numbered in all 
eighteen persons, and their dialect was not far distant from the one 
which I was beginning to speak; the other, thirty-four strong, talked 
an unknown language and one that I never succeeded in identifying. 
Each was led by a chief. In the case of the smaller of the two bands, his 
attributes seemed to me entirely secular. But the chief of the larger band 
was soon revealed to me as a sorcerer of some kind. His group were 
called the Sabane, and the others the Tarunde. 

Except for the language, there was no telling them apart: looks and 
culture were identical. This was already the case at Campos Novos; but 
at Vilhena the two bands, so far from being on bad terms, lived in 
perfect harmony. Their camp-fires were some way apart, but they 
travelled together, camped side by side, and seemed to be indissolubly 
allied, for all that they spoke different languages, and that their chiefs 
could communicate with one another only through the intermediary 
of one or two men, in either group, who could act as interpreters. 

Their union must have been a recent one. Between 1907 and 1930, 
as I explained earlier, epidemics traceable to the arrival of white men 
had decimated the Indians. Consequently there were bands so reduced 
in numbers that they could not pursue an independent existence. At 


Men, Women, and Chiefs 299 

Campos Novos I had examined the internal antagonisms of Nambik- 
wara society and watched the forces of disintegration at woffc. At 
Vilhena, by contrast, I was faced with an attempt at reconstruction. 
For there was no doubt that this was the two bands* conscious aim. The 
grown men of the one band addressed the women of Ac other band 
as sisters* and were called by them brothers in return. As for the mm, 
they addressed the men of the other band by the words which, in one 
language or the other, mean cousin of the type which anthropologists 
call crossed : this corresponds to the rektionship which we define as 
that of brothers-in-law * Given the marriage-laws of the NamMkwara, 
this means that all the children of the one band are potentially &e 
husbands or wives of children of the other band, and vice versa. By 
the time that the next generation has grown up, therefore, the two 
bands will have merged completely. 

But there were still obstacles to this grand design. A third band, 
enemies of the Tarunde, was in the neighbourhood. Sometimes their 
camp-fires were within sight of our own camp, and the Tarunde made 
themselves ready for any emergency. As I could understand the 
Tarunde up to a point, and the Saban6 not at all, I found myself more 
in sympathy with the Tarunde. Also the Saban6, with whom I had no 
means of communication, were much less trusting in their relations 
with me. So it is not for me to expound their point of view. In any case, 
the Tarund6 were not sure that the Sabane s motives in uniting with 
them were altogether disinterested. They were frightened of the third 
group, and what frightened them still more was the possibility that die 
Sabane might suddenly decide to go over to the other side 

A strange incident soon showed that there was foundation for dieir 
fears. One day, when the men had gone out hunting, the Sabane chief 
did not come back at his usual time. Night fell, and by nine or ten 
o clock in the evening consternation reigned in the camp above all in 
the home of the vanished chief, where his two wives and one child 
were huddled together in tears at the presumed death of their husband 
and father. At that moment I decided to go for a tour of the area, taking 
a few Indians with me. Hardly had we gone two hundred yards whoa 
we came upon our man, squatting on the ground and shivering in the 
dark. He was entirely naked stripped, that is to say, of his necklaces, 
bracelets, ear-rings, and belt. By the light of my torch we could see 
that he was haggard and distraught. He offered no resistance as we 
helped him back to our camp, where he sat, speechless, in an attitude of 
dejection which was really quite startling. 

3oo The Nambikivara 

Eventually his disquieted audience got the story out of him. He had 
been swept away by the thunder, he said. (Amon is their word for a 
storm, harbinger of the rainy season, and a storm had, in fact, just taken 
place.) This thunder had carried him up in the air and set him down at 
a point eighteen miles from our camp. It had stripped him of all his 
ornaments and brought him back to the place where we had found him. 
Everyone dropped slowly off to sleep as they hashed over the story, and 
by next morning the Sabane chief was back in his best humour and, 
what is more, had recovered all his ornaments. No one seemed sur 
prised by this: nor did he attempt to explain it. But before long a very 
different account of the episode was being put about by the Tarunde. 
They declared that under cover of his high adventure the Sabane chief 
had been negotiating with the other band of Indians who were camping 
nearby. These insinuations were never brought up in public, and the 
official account of the incident was still given official credence. But in 
private the Tarunde chief made no secret of his anxieties. As the two 
groups moved off shortly afterwards I never heard the end of the story. 

This incident, allied to my previous observations, caused me to 
reflect on the nature of the Nambikwara bands and on the political 
influence exerted within them by their chiefs. There is no social struc 
ture more fragile, or shorter-lived, than the Nambikwara band. If the 
chief is too exacting, if he allots to himself too large a share of the 
women, or if he cannot find enough food for his subjects during the 
dry season, discontentment follows immediately. Individuals, or whole 
families, will break away from the group and go off to join a band with 
a better reputation. This other band may be better fed, thanks to the 
discovery of better places for hunting and scavenging; or it may have 
a larger store of ornaments, thanks to favourable exchanges with 
neighbour-bands; or it may even have become more powerful as a 
result of a victorious campaign. One day the leader will find himself at 
the head of a group too small either to cope with the difficulties of 
everyday life or to protect its women from the designs of outsiders. 
When that happens he will just have to give up his position and ally 
himself and his few supporters with some more fortunate group. From 
all this it will be clear that the Nambikwara social structure is essentially 
fluid. Bands are constantly forming and being dissolved, doubling their 
numbers or disappearing altogether. A few months may suffice for their 
composition, numbers, and general character to change beyond recog 
nition. Domestic political intrigues and conflicts between neighbour- 
bands impose their separate rhythms upon these variations, and both 

Men, Women, and Chiefs 301 

individuals and groups pass from zenith to nadir, and vice versa, in a 
way that is often disconcerting. 

Why, therefore, do the Nambikwara divide themselves into i>ands 
at all? Economically speaking, they could hardly do otherwise than 
break up into small groups, given their extreme poverty in natural 
resources and the large area of ground which is needed, in the dry 
season, to keep even one Indian alive. The problem is not why, but 
how, they should so divide themselves. Initially there is a mall group 
of acknowledged leaders who constitute the nucleus around which 
each band forms itself. On the ability of the leader to consolidate his 
position and keep his followers in their place will depend the import 
ance of his band and the quasi-permanence of its character throughout 
the dry season. Political power does not seem to result from the com 
munity s needs; rather does the little community derive its character 
istics form, size, origins even from the potential leader who existed 
before the group came into being. 

I knew two of these chiefs very well: the one at Utiarity, whose 
band was called Wakletxxju, and the Tarunde chief. The first was 
remarkably intelligent, active, resourceful, and well aware of his respon 
sibilities. He fbrseaw the consequences of any new situation; drew up 
an itinerary expressly adapted to my needs; and elucidated it, where 
necessary, by drawing a map in the sand. When we reached his village 
we found that stakes to which we could tether our animals had already 
been planted by a party which he had sent on ahead for the purpose. 

As an informant he was invaluable to me, in that he understood my 
problems, solved my difficulties, and took a real interest in my work. 
But his functions preoccupied him, and for days together he would go 
off hunting, or on reconnaissance, or to see if the fruit- or seed-bearing 
trees were doing well. There were also his wives, whose continual 
invitations to amorous amusements of one sort or another found in him 
the readiest of partners. 

In general his activites revealed a logic, and a capacity for sustained 
effort, which are rare among the Nambikwara. (Instability and caprice 
are more the rule.) His conditions of life were precarious, and his means 
derisory: yet he had great powers of organization and took upon him 
self entire responsibility for his group. He was a thoroughly competent 
leader, though somewhat given to speculation. 

The Tarunde chief was, like his colleague, about thirty years old. 
He was equally intelligent in his quite different way. The Wakleto^u 
chief struck me as an informed and resourceful leader, who was always 

3Q2 The Nandrikwara 

turning over in his mind some possible political manoeuvre. His 
colleague was a man, not of action, but of contemplation: he had an 
attractive and poetical turn of mind and was unusually sensitive. He 
EeaBzed that his people were decadent, and for this reason his conversa 
tion had often a note of mdbncholy. *I used to do that once, he would 
say, but now it s finished . . / as he spoke of the days when his group, 
so &r from being too small to carry on the traditions of the Nambik- 
wara, mi to several hundreds, every one of them a fervent upholder of 
those auoeat customs. He was as interested in our own ways, and in 
ifaose of other tribes that Ihad examined, as I was in his own. With him, 
the anthropologist s work was never one^-sided: he saw it as an exchange 
of information, and always had a cordial welcome for all that I could 
tell him. Often, indeed, he would ask me for, and carefully keep, 
drawings of tie feather-ornaments, the head-dresses, and the weapons 
thai: I had noted down among peoples near or far. Did he hope that 
these would help bim to perfect the material and intellectual equipment 
of Iris own band? Conceivably although his day-dreamer s tempera- 
nimt did not lend itself well to practical activity. And yet when, one day, 
I asked him about the Pan-pipe, with aview to verifying the position of 
dbe air-holes on that instrument, and he, never having heard of it, asked 
me to draw him a picture of one, he later contrived to make himself such 
a flute, rooglily but servkeably constructed, on the basis of my drawing. 

Tlhe eaxeptiotial qualities manifested by both these chiefs derived 
from die manner of their designation for political power is not 
hereditary among the Nambifcwara. When a chief grows old, falls ill, 
or feels that he can no longer shoulder his heavy burdens, he himself 
chooses his successor: That one shall be chief. . / But this autocracy is 
EQOfe apparent than real. We shall see later on how slender is the chief s 
authority; and in this matter, as in others, the final decision would seem 
to be preceded by an appeal to public opinion, so that the heir finally 
appointed is die man most acceptable to the majority. But the choice of 
the new chief is not dictated entiidy by the wishes or preferences of the 
group; the leader-designate must be willing to take on die job and, not 
uncommocdy, he answers widi a violent: *No, I doe t want to be chief!* 
A second choice must then be made. There does not, in fact, seem to 
be any great competition for power, and die chiefs whom I knew were 
more likely to complain of their heavy burdens and manifold responsi 
bilities than, to talk with pride of the chiefs lofty position. What, in 
fact, are the chiefs privileges, and what are his obligation? 

Around the year 1560 Montaigne met, in Rouen, three Brazilian 

Men, Women* and Chiefs 303 

Indians who had been brought back by some early navigator. What, 
he asked one of them, were the privileges of a chief f king was what he 
said) in their country? The Indian, himself a chief, said: He s the first 
man to march off to war. Montaigne tells this story in his Essays and 
marvels at the proud definition. It was a matter, for me, of intmse 
astonishment and admiration that I received the same reply, nearly 
four centuries later. The civilized countries do not show anything Kfce 
the same constancy in their political philosophy! Striking as it is, the 
formula is not so fraught with meaning as the choice of the word for 
chief in Nambikwara language. Uilikan&e seems to mean the one who 
unites or the one who binds together , and it suggests that .the Indian 
mentality is aware of the phenomenon which I have already underlined: 
that the chief is rather the cause of the group s wish to constitute itself 
as a group, than the effect of the need, felt by an already-existing group, 
for a central authority. 

Personal prestige and the ability to inspire confidence are the 
foundations of power in Nambikwara society. Both are indispensable 
to the man who will be their guide in the adventurous, nomadic life of 
the dry season. For six or seven months the chief will be entirely res 
ponsible for the leadership of his band. He it is who organizes their 
departure, chooses their itinerary, aixd decrees where and for how long 
they will stop. He decides on the expeditions hunting, fishing, collect 
ing, scavenging and he deals with relations with neighbour-bands. 
When the chief of a band is also the dhief of a village (by this I mean a 
semi-permanent installation for use during the rainy season) his obliga 
tions go further. He determines the time and the place for the sedentary 
life. He supervises the gardens and says what crops are to be planted. 
More generally, he adapts his band s activities to the needs and possi 
bilities of the season. 

Where these manifold functions are concerned it should be said at 
once that the chief cannot seek support either in clearly defined powers 
or in a publicly recognized authority. Consent lies at the origins of 
power, and consent also confers upon power its legitimacy. Bad cort- 
duct (from the Indians point of view, needless to say) or marks of ill 
will on the part of one or two malcontents may throw the chiefs whole 
programme out of joint and threaten the well-being of his little 
community. Should this happen, the chief has no powers of coercion. 
He can disembarrass himself of undesirable elements only in so far as 
all the others are of the same mind as himsel And so he needs to be 
clever: and his cleverness is not so much that of an all-powerful 

304 The Nambikw&ra 

sovereign as that of a politician struggling to maintain an uncertain 
majority. Nor does it suffice for him merely to keep his group together. 
They may live in virtual isolation during the nomadic season, but they 
never forget that neigh!x>ur-groups are not far away. The chief must 
not iBerdy do well: he must try, and his group will expect him to try, 
to do better than the others. 

How does the chief fulfil his obligations? The first and the main 
instrument of his power is his generosity. Generosity is among most 
primitive peoples, and above all in America, an essential attribute of 
power. It has a role to play even in those elementary cultures where the 
notion of property consists merely in a handful of rudely fashioned 
objects. Although the chief does not seem to be in a privileged position, 
from the material point of view, he must have under his control surplus 
quantitiesof food, tools, weapons, andornamentswMch,howevertrifling 
in themselves, are none the less considerable in relation to the prevailing 
poverty. When an individual, a family, or the band as a whole, wishes 
or needs something, it is to the chief that an appeal must be made. 
Generosity is, therefore, the first attribute to be expected of a new chief. 
It is a Bo$e which will be struck almost continuously; and from the 
nature, discordant or otherwise, of the sound which results the chief 
can judge of his standing with the band. His subjects* make the most of 
all this: of that there can be no doubt The chiefs were my best informers; 
and as I knew the difficulties of their position I liked to reward them 
liberally. Rarely, however, did any of my presents remain in their hands 
for more than a day or two. And when I moved on, after sharing for 
several weeks the life of any particular band, its members rejoiced in the 
acquisition of axes, knives, pearls, and so forth from my stores. Hie 
chief, by contrast, was generally as poor, in material terms, as he had 
been when I arrival. His share, which was very much larger than the 
average allowance, had all been extorted from him. This often reduced 
the chief to a kind of despair. A chief who can say *No* in such situations 
is like a Prime Minister, in countries subject to parliamentary democ 
racy, who can snap his fingers at a vote of confidence. A chief who can 
say: Til give no more! I ve been generous long enough! Let someone 
else take a turn!* must really be sure of his authority if he is not to 
provoke a moment of grave crisis. 

Ingenuity is generosity transposed to the level of the intellect. A 
good chief gives proofs of his initiative and skilL He it is who prepares 
the poison for the arrows. He, likewise, who constructs the ball of wild 
rubber which is used on Nanabikwara sports days. He must also be able 

Men, Women, and Chiefs 305 

to sing and dance, with a repertory krge enough to amuse the band at 
any time and distract them from the monotony of their everyday life. 
These functions might easily make of him something of a shaman, and 
some chiefs do, in fact, combine the roles of warrior and witch-doctor. 
But mysticism in all its forms remains well in the background of 
Nambikwara life, and the gift of magic, when present, is merely one of 
the secondary attributes of command. It is more common for one 
person to assume the temporal and another the spiritual power. In this 
the Nambikwara differ from their neighbours, the Tupi-Kawahib, 
whose chiefs are also shamans much given to premonitory dreams, 
visions, trances, and the dissociation of personality. 

But the skill and ingenuity of the Nambikwara chief are none the less 
astonishing for being directed towards a more positive outlet. He must 
have a minute knowledge of the territories frequented by his band and 
by its neighbours: the hunting-grounds must have no secrets from him, 
and he must know just when each dump of wild fruit-trees will be ripe 
for plucking. Thus instructed, he can work out a rough itinerary for 
each of his neighbour-bands, whether friendly or hostile; and, as he 
needs to be constantly on the move, reconnoitring or exploring, he may 
well seem to be not so much leading his band as circling rapidly round it. 

Apart from one or two men who have no real authority, but are 
prepared to collaborate if paid to do so, the passivity of the band is in 
striking contrast to the dynamism of its leader. It is as if, having handed 
over to him certain advantages, they expect him to take entire charge 
of their interests and their security. This attitude was well displayed in 
the episode which I have already described of the journey on which, 
when we lost our way and had not enough food, the Indians lay down 
on the ground instead of going off to look for some, leaving it to the 
chief and his wives to remedy the situation as best they could. 

I have often spoken of the chief s wives . He is, practically speaking, 
the only polygamist in the band: and this is both a consolation, moral 
and sentimental, for the heavy burdens of office, and one of the means 
of shouldering those burdens. With rare exceptions the chief and the 
witch-doctor (when these functions are shared between two men) are 
the only people to have more than one wife. But this polygamy is of a 
special type: it is not plural marriage in the strict sense, but rather a 
normal monogamous marriage to which are added relationships of a 
a different sort. The first wife fulfils the normal role of the wife in 
monogamous marriages, in that she does the work usually attributed to 
her sex, looks after die children, does the cooking, and goes out to 

306 The Nambikwara 

collect such food as she can. Later unions, though recognized as 
marriages, are of a different kind. The wives come, to begin with, from 
a younger generation, and the first wife addresses them as daughter* or 
*niece*. Nor do they obey the rules of the division of labour between 
the sexes, but do the work of either men or women, as they please. In 
camp, they regard house-work as beneath them and live in idleness, 
dither playing with children nearer their own age, or making love with 
their husband, while the first wife busies herself with the routine work 
of die home. But when the chief goes hunting or exploring, or on 
some other masculine errand, his secondary wives go with him and 
give him both physical and moral support. Boyish in appearance, and 
chosen firom the prettiest and healthiest girls of the group, they are, 
indeed* more mistresses than wives, and he lives with them in an 
atmosphere of amorous camaraderie which is in striking contrast to the 
conjugal atmosphere of his first union. 

Men and women do not as a rule bathe together, but the chief can 
sometimes be seen in the river with his secondary wives, and these 
occasions are marked by a great deal of splashing about, horse-play, and 
jokes of every kind. In the evening he plays with them. Sometimes the 
games are clearly erotic, and they roll about, two, three, or even four 
together, closely entwined on the sand. Sometimes they are more 
childish in tone: for instance the WakletO9U chief and his two wives 
would lie on the ground in the shape of a three-leafed clover, with their 
feet together in the middle, and then, raising their legs in the air, would 
bring them together, clapping the soles of their feet together in 

This form of polygamy represents, therefore, a normal mono 
gamous marriage, to which is added a pluralist variant of amorous 
camaraderie. It is also an attribute of power, and has a functional value 
in both the moral and the economic spheres. The wives generally live 
together in harmony, and, although the lot of the first wife may seem 
thankless, she seems to feel, or at any rate to show, no bitterness as she 
toils away while her husband and his little playmates amuse themselves 
and, at times, go to the limits of erotic enjoyment, within sight and 
sound of her. This distinction between the original wife and her succes 
sors is not, in any case, immutable. It happens, though less often, that 
the first wife may join in the fun: nor is she in any way excluded from 
the lighter sides of family life. And the fact that she takes less part in 
their dalliances is balanced by the greater respect, and to some extent 
the obedience, which is owed to her by her youthful successors. 

Men, Women, and Chiefs 307 

This system has serious consequences for the life of the group. By 
withdrawing, as he does, a number of young girls from the normal 
matrimonial cycle, the chief creates a disequilibrium between the 
number of young men and the number of available girls. The young 
men suffer most from this, for they are condemned either to remain 
single for years, or to ally themselves with widows or older women 
whose husbands have had enough of them. 

The Nambikwara have, however, another way of resolving the 
problem, and that is by homosexual relations or, as they call them, 
tamindige kihandige: "the loving he . These relations, common among 
the younger men, are carried on with a publicity uncommon in the 
case of more normal relations. The partners do not go off into the bush, 
as they would with a partner of the opposite sex, but get down to it 
beside the camp-fire, much to the amusement of their neighbours. The 
incident provokes a joke or two, on the quiet, the relations in question 
being regarded as childishness and of no serious account. It remains 
doubtful whether these exercises are carried to the point of complete 
satisfaction or whether, like much that goes on between husbands and 
wives among the Nambikwara, they are limited to sentimental out 
pourings and a certain amount of erotic fore-play. 

Homosexual relations are only allowed between adolescent boys 
who stand to one another in the relations of crossed cousins cases, that 
is to say, in which one partner would normally marry the other s sister 
and is taking her brother as a provisional substitute. Whenever I asked 
an Indian about a relationship of this sort, the answer was always the 
same: "They are two cousins (or brothers-in-law) who make love 
together/ Even when fully grown, the brothers-in-law are still very 
free in their ways, and it is not unusual to see two or three men, all 
married and the fathers of children, walking round in die evening with 
their arms round one another s waists. 

The privilege of polygamy, which gives rise to these makeshift 
arrangements, is clearly an important concession to the chief on the part 
of the entire group. How does he see it? The fact of being able to pick 
and choose among the prettiest young girls gives him great satisfaction 
a satisfaction not so much physical, for reasons I have already given, 
as sentimental. But, above all, polygamy and its specific attributes are 
the means put by the group at die disposition of their chief in order to 
help him to carry out his duties. Were he alone, he could only with 
difficulty do more than the others. His secondary wives, freed, in virtue 
of their special status, from the normal bondage of their sex, can help 

The Natnbikwara 

and comfort him. Tliey are both the reward and the instrument of 
power. Can we say, however, that from the Indian s point of view the 
reward is adequate? To get an answer to that, we must examine the 
question more generally and see what the Nambikwara band, if con 
sidered as an elementary social structure, has to teach us about the 
origins and function of power. 

The evidence of the Narnbikwara runs, to begin with, clean counter 
to the ancient sociological theory, now temporarily resurrected by the 
psycho-analysts, according to which the primitive chief derives from a 
symbolical Father. This view goes on to assert that the forms of the 
State have developed, from this starting-point, on the analogy of family 
life. At the foundations of power in one of its most primitive forms, on 
the other hand, we have discerned a decisive phase which introduces, in 
relation to the phenomena of biology, quite a new element: this phase 
consists in the^uwig of consent. Consent is at the origins, and at the same 
time at the furthest limit, of power. What are in appearance one-sided 
relations (those existing, for instance, in a gerontocracy, an autocracy, 
or any other form of government) may arise among groups whose 
structure is already complex; but in forms of social organization as 
simple as the one I am now trying to describe they are inconceivable. 
In such cases, political relations may be reduced to a kind of arbitration 
between, on the one hand, the talents and authority of the chief and, on 
the other, the size, coherence, and good will of the group. All these 
factors exert a reciprocal influence upon one another. 

I should like to be able to show how markedly, in dais regard, con 
temporary anthropology supports the theses of the eighteenth-century 
philosaphes. Doubtless Rousseau s schema differs from the quasi-con 
tractual relations which obtain between the chief and his companions. 
Rousseau had in mind quite a different phenomenon the renunciation 
by the individual of his own autonomy in the interests of the collective 
will It is none the less true, however, that Rousseau and his contempo 
raries displayed profound sociological intuition when they realized that 
attitudes and elements of culture such as are summed up in the words 
contract* and consent* are not secondary formations, as their adver 
saries (and Hume in particular) maintained: they are the primary 
materials of social life, and it is impossible to imagine a form of political 
organization in which they are not present. 

As a consequence of all this, it is dear that power is founded, psycho 
logically speaking, in consent. But in daily life it finds outlet in the game 
of oath and counter-oath which is played out by the chief and his 

M?, Women, and Chiefs 309 

companions. Another of the attributes of power is, in effect, the notion 
of reciprocity. The chief has power, but he must be generous. He has 
duties, but he can also have several wives. Between himself and die 
group there is a constantly adjusted equilibrium of oaths and privileges, 
services and responsibilities. 

But in the case of marriage the whole thing goes one stage father. 
By conceding to its chief the privilege of polygamy, the group ex 
changes the individual elements of security guaranteed by the role of 
monogamy and receives in return the collective security which it 
expects from Authority. Each man receives his wife from another man, 
but the chief receives his several wives from the group as a group. In 
return, he offers to guarantee the group in times of danger or need; and 
this guarantee is offered not to the individuals whose daughters or 
sisters he marries, nor even to those who, as a result of this, will have to 
remain single. It is offered to the group as a group, for it is the group 
as a group which has suspended the common kw to his personal 
advantage. These reflections may be of interest to any theoretical study 
of polygamy: but above all they remind us that the conception of the 
State as a system of guarantees, renewed after discussion of a national 
insurance system such as that put forward by Beveridge and others, is 
not a purely modern development. It is a return to the fundamental 
nature of social and political organization. 

Such is the group s point of view, where power is concerned. What, 
now, is the chiePs own attitude to his function as chief? From what 
motives does he accept an office which is not always a very pleasant one? 
The Nambikwara chief knows that his is a difficult role, and that it will 
take all he has to sustain it adequately. l what is more, he does not 
succeed in continually enhancing his personal standing he may easily 
lose what he has taken months or years to acquire. That is why many 
men decline the position of power. But why is it that others accept it, 
and indeed go out of their way to get it? It is never easy to judge of 
psychological motives, and it becomes almost impossible to do so when 
die culture in question is so very different from our own. One can say, 
however, that the privilege of polygamy, however attractive from the 
sexual, social, and sentimental points of view, would not in itself be 
enough. Polygamous marriage is one of the technical conditions of 
power: as far as private satisfactions are concerned, it can offer only an 
auxiliary significance. Nor is that all: for when I call to mind the moral 
and psychological characteristics of the Nambikwara chiefs, and try to 
capture the fugitive nuances of their personality (these nuances cannot 

3io The Nambikwara 

be analysed scientifically, but where the experiment of friendship is 
concerned, or the intuitive feeling of human communication, they may 
be of great value), I am carried irresistibly forward to the following 
conclusion: that if there are chiefs, it is because there are, in every group 
of human beings, men who, unlike their companions, love importance 
for its own sake, take a delight in its responsibilities, and find rewards 
enough in those very burdens of public life from which their fellows 
shrink. Certainly these individual differences are developed and find 
outlet in a manner, and to a degree, which will itself differ from one 
culture to another. But the fact that they exist in a society so largely un- 
competitive as that of the Nambikwara would suggest that their origin 
is not entirely social. Rather are they a part of that raw material of 
psychology in which every society somewhere finds it foundations. 
Men are not all alike, and even in primitive tribes, which sociologists 
have portrayed as crushed by all-powerful tradition, the differences 
between one man and another are noted as exacdy, and exploited with 
as much pertinacity, as in what we call our individualist society. 

This is, in another form, precisely the miracle of which Leibnitz 
speaks, in connection with the American savages whose ways, as des 
cribed by early travellers, taught him never to mistake the hypotheses 
of political philosophy for demonstrations . For my own part, I went 
to the ends of the earth in search of what Rousseau called the barely 
perceptible advances of the earliest times . Beneath and beyond the veil 
of the all-too-learned laws of the Bororo and the Caduveo I had gone 
in search of a state which, to quote once again from Rousseau, no 
longer exists, perhaps may never have existed, and probably will never 
exist . And yet, he goes on, without an accurate idea of that state we 
cannot judge properly of our present situation. Myself luckier than he, 
I thought that I had come upon that state in a society then nearing its 
end. It would have been poindess for me to wonder whether or not it 
was a vestigial version of what Rousseau had in mind; whether tradi 
tional or degenerate, it brought me into contact with one of the most 
indigent of all conceivable forms of social and political organization. I 
had no need to go into its past history to discover what had maintained 
it at its rudimentary level or what, as was more likely, had brought 
it thus far down. I had merely to focus my attention on the experiment 
in sociology which was being carried out under my nose. 

But that experiment eluded me. I had been looking for a society 
reduced to its simplest expression. The society of the Nambikwara had 
been reduced to the point at which I found nothing but human beings. 


The Tupi-Kawahib 

27 By Canoe 

. HAD left Cuiaba in June, and it was now September. 
For three months I had wandered across the plateau, camping with the 
Indians while my animals had a rest, or pushing on interminably from 
one point to the next, asking myself the while what it would all add up 
to in the end. Meanwhile the jerky motion of the mule gave me sore 
places so atrociously painful, and yet so familiar, that I ended up by 
feeling that they were a permanent part of my anatomy and that I 
should even miss them if they were not there the next morning. Bore 
dom got the upper hand of adventure. For weeks on end the same 
austere savannah would unroll before me a land so dry that living 
plants could scarcely be distinguished from the dead stumps that marked 
the place where someone had lately struck camp. And as for the 
blackened remains of bush-fires, they seemed merely the natural cul 
mination of a territory where it was the destiny of everything, sooner 
or later, to be burnt to a cinder. 

From Utiarity we went to Juruena, and thence to Juina, Campos 
Novos, and Vilhena. September saw us moving towards the last stations 
on the plateau: Tres-Buritis first, and then Barao de Melga9O, which 
was already at the foot of the plateau. At more or less every station we 
had lost one or two of our oxen, either from thirst, or from hunger, or 
from hervado eating poisonous grasses, that is to say. When we 
crossed a river by a bridge that was crumbling into ruins, several oxen 
fell into the water, together with our baggage, and it was with great 
difficulty that we saved the most precious fruits of our expedition. But 
such incidents were rare: every day was spent in exactly the same way: 
setting up camp, slinging our hammocks, with their mosquito-nets, 
putting our baggage and pack-saddles out of reach of the termites, 
seeing to our animals, and making ready for the same procedures, in 
reverse, the next morning. Should an Indian band come in sight, we put 


314 The Tupi-Kawahib 

another routine into action, making a census, taking note of the names 
given to the various parts of the body and to certain family relation 
ships, drawing up genealogies, and making an inventory of the natives* 
possessions. If this was escape , I was one of escape s bureaucrats. 

We had had no rain for five months, and there was no game to be 
seen. It was a great day for us if we could shoot an emaciated parrot, or 
capture a big tupinambis lizard that could be boiled with our rice, or 
roast in their shells a tortoise or an oily, black-fleshed armadillo. We 
had to content ourselves, most often, with xarque: that eternal dried 
meat, prepared months previously by a butcher in Cuiaba. The thick 
slices would be swarming with worms when we unrolled them each 
morning in the sun: we cleaned them as best we could, only to find 
them in the same state next day. Just once, however, someone killed a 
wild pig. Its bleeding flesh seemed to us more heady than any wine, 
and as we tore into it, eating at least a pound a head, I could well under 
stand the supposed gluttony which so many travellers had instanced 
as proof of the savage s barbaric state. Once one had lived as they live, 
and eaten as they eat, one well knew what hunger could be, and how 
the satisfaction of that hunger brought not merely repletion, but 
happiness itself. 

Gradually the landscape changed its character. The former crystal 
line and sedimentary soils, which make up the central plateau, gave way 
to a base of clay. The savannah was replaced by zones of dry chestnut- 
forest (not our own chestnuts, but the Brazilian Bertholktia excelsa), and 
forests too of the balsam-secreting copaiba-tree. The once limpid 
streams became clouded with yellow, foul-smelling waters. Landslides 
could be seen on every hand: eroded hills with, at their feet, marshes 
full ofsapezals (tall grasses) and buritizals (palm-trees). On the verges 
of these, our mules would pick their way through fields of wild pine 
apples little fruit with orange-yellow skins whose flesh was full of 
big black seeds, with a taste midway between that of the cultivated 
pineapple and the richest of raspberries. From the soil there arose a 
smell we had not smelt for months past: that of a hot chocolate- 
flavoured tisane, which is in reality nothing more than the smell of 
tropical vegetation and organic decomposition. Suddenly one realized, 
when confronted with this smell, how this soil could produce cocoa, 
just as sometimes in Haute-Provence the scent of a field full of half- 
faded lavender will explain how that same earth can secrete the truffle, 
A last ledge in the terrain brought us to the edge of a meadowland 
immediately above the telegraph station of Barao de Melga<;o. And from 

By Canoe 3*S 

there, as fax as the eye could see, the Madbado valley stretchied oi& into 
the Amazonian forest that went on for another thousand miles, right 
up to the Venezuelan frontier. 

At Barao de Melga9O there were meadows of green grass senromKled 
by humid forest lands loud with the trampet-nofce of die jno*, or 
barking-bkd After two hours in these surroundings one codd be 
confident of coming back to camp with one s arms foil of game. A kind 
of gastronomic frenzy took hold of us, and for three days we did 
nothing but cook and eat Thenceforward we should never go short; 
our so carefully husbanded stocks of sugar and alcohol melted away as 
we got our first taste of Amazonian dishes: above all the tocm or Brazil- 
nuts, whose meat, when grated, enriched our sauces with a smooth 
white cream. Here are some details of our culinary adventures that I 
have retrieved from one of my notebooks: 

Humming-bird (called in Portuguese beija-fior, or ffower-kisser) 
roasted on a needle and jlambe in whisky. 

The grilled tail of a caiman. 

A parakeet roasted and jlambe in whisky. 

A salmis ofjacu in a fruit-salad made from the fruitsof the ossoipalm- 

A ragout of mutiim (a sort of wild turkey) and palm-buds, with 
pepper and a tocari sauce. 

Roast jaat with caramel. 

After these debauches and certain no less necessary aHotioii&---for 
we had spent many days without a chance of taking off the overalls 
which, together with cap and boots, mack up our entire wardrobe I 
began to draw up my plans for the rest of the journey. From that point 
onwards we would do better to keep to the rivers, ratfaor than hazard 
ourselves in the overgrown forest, I bad, in any case, only seventeen of 
my original oxen still with me, and their state was such that they could 
not have gone on, even on easy ground. We would split up into three 
groups, My troop4eader and some of his men would go overland 
towards the nearest of the rubber-seekers* posts, and there try to sell 
our horses and some of our mules* Otto: men would stay with our 
oxen at Barao de Melga^o, to allow them time to recover their strength 
in pastures afcapim-gordtira, or fk grasses. Tiburcb, their old cook, was 
the more ready tso take command of them in that they all loved him. 
He had a good deal of African blood in him, and they said of him that 

3*6 The Tupi-Kawahib 

he was black in colour and white in quality 5 which shows, by the 
way, that the Brazilian peasant is not exempt from racial prejudices. 
In Amazonia a white girl who has a black suitor will often say: Have 
I such a white carcass that an urulou conies and perches on my belly? In 
this she harks back to the familiar spectacle of the dead crocodiles who 
float downstream with a black-feathered vulture picking away at the 
belly of each for days together. 

Once the oxen were better, the troop would turn in its tracks and 
go back to Utiarity. There we foresaw no trouble, since the oxen would 
have nothing to carry and the now-imminent rains would have turned 
the desert into a prairie. Finally, the scientific personnel and the 
remainder of our men would take our baggage and convey it in canoes 
to the inhabited areas in which we should go our separate ways. I myself 
intended to cross into Bolivia by the Madeira, fly across the country, 
go back to Brazil by way of Corumba, and thence to Cuiaba, and on 
to Utiarity, in the month of December or thereabouts, to rejoin my 
comitiva my men and animals and bring the expedition to a close. 

The chief of the Melgafo station lent us two galiotes light coracles 
made of planks and some men to paddle them. And so it was good 
bye to our mules! For now we had only to ge down with the stream of 
the Rio Machado. Month after month of dryness had made us careless, 
and on our first evening we did not bother to hang our hammocks in a 
sheltered place, but simply slung them between the trees on the bank. 
Hie storm broke out in the middle of the night with a noise like a horse 
at full gallop and, before we had even woken up, our hammocks were 
awash with water. We unfolded an awning as best we could to shelter 
us from the rain: actually to erect it was quite impossible in such a 
deluge. Nor was there any question of going to sleep: squatting in the 
water, with the sheet draped over our heads, we had to keep a constant 
watch on the folds of the canvas which kept filling up with water and 
had to be shaken out before the water had time to get through. To pass 
the time, the men told one another stories : I remember one that Emy dio 
told us. 

A widower had an only son, who was already almost grown up. 
One day he sent for him and told him that it was high time he got 
married. "What must I do to get married?" the boy asked. "It s very 
simple," his father said. "All you have to do is to go and see our 
neighbours and try to get their daughter to like you." "But I don t 
know how to make a girl like me!" "Well then play the guitar, and 

By Canoe 317 

laugh, and sing her a song or two!" Hie son did as he was told. But as 
he arrived just as the girl s father was dying his behaviour was thought 
to be most unsuitable and they drove him away and threw stones after 
him. He went home and complained to his father, who told him how he 
ought to behave in such cases. The boy went off to his neighbours again 
and arrived just as they were killing a pig. Remembering the latest of 
his lessons he burst into tears: "How sad! How good he was! How we 
loved him! We shall never find a better!" Once again the neighbours 
drove him away in exasperation. He described all this to his father, 
and once again he was told exacdy how to behave in such circumstances. 
When he paid his third visit, his neighbours were busy clearing the 
caterpillars from their garden. Always one lesson behind, he burst out 
with: "What an abundance of good things! May you have more and 
more such animals on your property ! May they never be lacking ! n And 
he was chased away again. 

After this third rebuff the father told his son to build himself a but. 
He went into the forest to cut down the necessary trees. A werewolf 
passed by in the night, thought the site a good one for himself to settle 
in, and went to work. Next morning the boy came back to the clearing 
and found the work well advanced, "God is giving me a hand!" he 
thought to himself delightedly. And so they worked in double shifts, the 
boy by day and the werewolf bynight. Before longthehouse was ready. 

By way of house-warming the boy decided to feast off a roebuck. 
The werewolf preferred a human body. The one brought the bock by 
day, the other a corpse during the night. And when the boy s fadber 
came along to j oin in the feast he saw a dead man on the table as piece de 
resistance and said to his son: "Ah, my boy, f m afraid you E never be 
up to anything much. 

The next day it was still raining and as we sailed down to tie 
Pimenta Bueno station we had to bail the whole time. The station stood 
at the point where the river from which it took its name joined the Rio 
Machado. About twenty people lived in it: a few whites from the 
interior, and some Indians of varied extraction who were working to 
maintain the line Cabishianas from the Guapore valley, and Tupi- 
Kawahibs from the Rio Machado. All were to provide me with impor 
tant information. Some of it had to do with the Tupt-Kawahibs who 
were still completely primitive: older reports had made out that these 
had disappeared. Of this I shall say more later. Other stories related to 
an unknown tribe which seemed to live some days distant, by canoe, 

318 The Tupi-Kawahib 

along the Rio Kmenta Bueno. Immediately I wondered how I could 
get to meet them and, as luck would have it, a black man named Bahia 
was passing through the station. He was a commercial traveller, and 
something of an adventurer, who made, every year, a most remarkable 
journey. Hrst he would go down as far as the Madeira and stock up with 
the merchandise to be found in the riverside warehouses. Then he 
would canoe upstream along the Machado and, for two days, up the 
Hmenta Bueno. There he knew of a track which allowed him to drag 
his canoes and their load through the forest for three solid days until he 
came to a little tributary of the Guapore. At this point he could dispose 
of his stock at prices all the more exorbitant for the fact that the region 
served by this little river had no other source of supplies. Bahia said that 
he was quite ready to go up the Kmenta Bueno beyond the normal 
limit of his itinerary, on condition that I paid him not in money but in 
merchandise. This was a sound speculation on his part, in that the 
Amazonian wholesale prices were higher than those I had paid at Sao 
Paulo. So I handed over to him some lengths of red flannel: these had 
lost their charm for me ever since, at Vilhena, I had offered one to the 
Nambikwara, only to see, on the following day, that not only they 
themselves, but their dogs, monkeys, and tame boars were dressed from 
head to toe in red flannel. (An hour later, the joke being exhausted, the 
flannel was strewn about the bush in ribbons and no one paid any more 
attention to it.) 

Our team was soon made up: with two canoes borrowed from the 
station, four paddlers, and two of my own men, we were ready to set 
off on our improvised adventure. 

Nothing is more exciting for an anthropologist than the prospect of 
being the first white man to penetrate a native community. Already in 
1938 this greatest of compensations could be procured only in a very 
few parts of the world few enough, in feet, to be counted on the 
fingers of one hand. Today the possibilities are still more restricted. In 
my journey I was to re-live the experience of the travellers of old; and 
at the same time I should be faced with that moment, so crucial to 
modern thought, at which a community which had thought itself 
complete, perfected, and sel&sufficient, is made to realize that it is 
nothing of the kind. The counter-revelation, in short: the feet that it is 
not alone in the world, that it is but part of a vast human ensemble, 
and that to know itself it must first look at the unrecognizable image of 
itself in tibat mirror of which one long-forgotten splinter was about to 
give out, for myself alone, its first and last reflection. 

By Canoe 319 

Perhaps my enthusiasm was out of place in the twentieth century? 
The Indians of the Pimenta Bueno were unknown , cortainly: but I 
could hardly expect to get from them a shock of the kind felt, four 
hundred years earlier, by the great pioneers, Lery, Staden, and Thevet, 
who were the first to set foot on Brazilian territory. What tfaey then 
saw, our eyes could not hope to see again. The civilizations which they 
were the first to consider had developed on lines different from oi3t own, 
but they had none the less reached the maximum point of plenitude and 
perfection which was compatible with their nature. The societies which 
we could study today, in conditions which it would be a great illusion 
to compare to those of four centuries ago, were enfeebled in body and 
mutilated in form. Distant as they were from the western world, and 
weird as had been the intermediaries between themselves and it (just 
how weird these had been was a source of amazement to me, when I 
managed to reconstruct the chain of events involved), they had been 
pulverized by the development of western civilization. For them, as 
for so large and so innocent a faction of the human race, this 
development had come as a monstrous and unintelligible cataclysm* 
We in the West should remember that that development has pet 
upon the matter a second face, as truthful and as indelible as its 

The men might have changed, but the conditions of the journey 
remained the same. After the back-breaking ride across the plateau I 
gave myself up to the delights of navigation. Our maps did not indicate 
die course of that delectable river, but its every detail pot me in mind 
of narratives long cherished. 

I had to relearn the habits of river life that I had picked up, three 
years before, on the Sao Louren^o: to recognize, for instance, the 
different types and respective merits of the canoes, some cot out of a 
tree-trunk, others assembled from planks, which are called, according 
to shape and size, montana r amoe&> uba, or igarite. Ihad to get used, once 
again, to squatting for hours together in the water that seeped in 
through cracks in the wood and had to be bailed out continually with a 
little calabash. Stiff as I was, I had to stretch myself slowly and with the 
utmost care if I were not to capsize my boat. (As die Indians said, *agua 
nao tern cabellos 9 : Water has no hair/ If ever I fell otit, there would be 
nothing to hold on to.) And I needed great patience: for, whenever an 
obstacle presented itself we had to unload the provisions and the 
equipment that I had stowed away with such an extremity of care, and 
carry both diem and the canoes along the rocky bank to a point, 

32O The Tupi-Kawahib 

several hundred yards distant, at which the whole operation could be 
begun all over again. 

These obstacles were of several kinds: seccos, where the river-bed was 
dry; caehoeiras, rapids; $altos> fells. Each type was soon given a vivid 
nickname bv our oarsmen: a detail of the landscape, such as castanhal, 
palmos, an incident of the chase, veado, queixada, araras; or a name 
suggestive of some more directly personal relationship with the 
traveller: aiminosa, the criminal; encrenca, an untranslatable noun which 
<lescribes the feeling of being caught in a trap; apertada hora, the 
confined hour*, or the hour of anguish; vamos ver, we shall see * 

And so I got away to an experience which, in its beginnings, was 
familiar enough. We let the rowers space out the rhythms in traditional 
style: first a series of short strokes, plou plouf, plouf . . . after which the 
boat really gets under way, with two sharp taps on the gunwale between 
each stroke, tra-plou tra~plou tra . . . and finally the long-distance 
rhythm. In this last, the oar only goes into the water on every other 
stroke, alternating with a mere caress of the surface which is preceded 
and followed by a tap on the gunwale. The rhythm is, therefore, trar- 
plouf, tra, sh, tra ... and so on. In this we saw first the blue and then 
the orange side of each oar, hardly more heavy, as it skimmed above 
the water, than the reflection (and at times the oars themselves seemed 
no more than their own reflection) of the large groups of araras which 
flew across the river with either their golden-yellow bellies or their 
sky-blue backs sparkling all together in the sunlight. The air no longer 
had the transparency that it had had in the dry season. At dawn every 
thing was wrapped in a kind of thick rosy-pink froth as the mists of 
morning rose slowly from the river. It was already very warm, but 
little by little this indirect warmth declared itself more exactly. What 
tad been merely a diffused heat became the strong downbeat of the 
sun upon one part or another of one s face and hands. One began to 
know just why one was sweating. The pink of the mist grew lighter hare, 
darker there. Islets of blue made their appearance. The mist seemed, in 
feet, to be getting richer in colour, whereas it was really only dissolving. 

Going upstream was hard work, and our rowers needed an occa 
sional rest. The morning was then spent in catching, with the help of a 
coarse line baited with wild berries, enough fish for the peixada or 
Amazonian bouillabaisse: pacus yellow with fat and eaten in slices held 
by the backbone as one holds a cutlet by its handle*; silvery, red- 
fleshed piracanjubas; the vermilion chrysophrys; casatdos, with black 
armour-plate as heavy as a lobster s; speckled piaparas; tnandi; piavai 

By Canoe 

curimbata; jatuarama; matrinchao. . . . But we had to look out for the 
poisonous rays and the purake, or electric fish; this latter can be caught 
without bait, but its electric charge is strong enough to kill a mule. To 
pass water in the river was still more dangerous for, according to our 
men, there were tiny fish that could climb up the jet of urine and get 
into one s bladder. . . * 

Alternatively we would watch the vast thickets of green mould that 
formed in the forest at the water s edge for the sudden irruption of a 
band of many-named monkeys: the shrieking guariha> the co&ta with its 
spidery limbs, the capuchin or nail-monkey , and the zog-zog, which 
wakes the whole forest with its cries in the hour before dawn. With his 
big almond-eyes, his lofty carriage, and his silken billowy coat, the 
zog~zog could pass for a Mongol prince. With these came the whole 
tribe of smaller monkeys: the saguin, which we call the ouistiti; the 
macaco da noite, or night-monkey, with its dark gelatinous eyes; the 
macaco de cheiro, or scent-monkey; the gogo de sol, or sunny-throat, and 
so on. ... A shot fired at random into their troop would almost 
certainly bring one down. Roasted, it would look like a mummified 
child with clenched hands; in a ragout, it would taste like duck. 

Towards three in the afternoon there came a dap of thunder, the 
sky darkened, and rain masked one half of the sky with a great vertical 
bar. Would it reach us? The black bar became streaky, tore itself open, 
and revealed on the far side of it a glimmer of light which, at first 
golden in colour, turned later to a faded blue. Only the centre of the 
horizon was now dark with rain. But the clouds melted away, and tie 
rain-patch thinned down to left and to right and finally disappeared. All 
that remained was a composite sky, with blue-black masses super 
imposed upon a background of blue and white. This was the moment, 
before the next storm, to tie up at a point where the forest seemed not 
quite so thick. We would quickly cut away a litde clearing with our 
sabres, and look closely at the trees thus brought into the open. One of 
them might boast the pan de novato, or novke^tree, so called because 
the greenhorn who dings his hammock to it will be invaded by an 
army of red ants; or the garlic-scented pau falho; or the catmela merda, 
whose name speaks for itself. Perhaps too, if we were lucky, there 
would be the soveira, whose trunk, when cut into in a circle, will in the 
space of a few minutes pour out more milk than any cow. Its milk is 
creamy and foaming but, if drunk neat, will cover the inside of one s 
mouth with an insidious thm rubbery skin. Or the arafa, whose purplish 
fruit, about as big as a cherry, has the smell of turpentine and, with it 

3*2 The Tupi-Kffivahib 

an acidity so light that the water in which one squeezes it will seem to 
fizz; the poi-bearing inga, whose pods are full of sweet-tasting down; 
the kzom, a pear such as one might steal from the orchards of Paradise; 
and finally the assai, greatest of forest delicacies, whose liquid, when 
drawn off, is like a thick raspherry syrup. Leave it overnight, and it will 
tarn into a fruity and slightly sour cheese. 

Some of our men would look to the food, while others slung the 
hammocks beneath shelters of branches covered with a light roof of 
palms, This was the moment for stories round the camp-fire stories 
full of ghosts and apparitions: the lobis-homem, or werewolf, or the 
headless horse, or the old woman with a skeleton s head. Always in 
any troop there is an old garimpeiro who looks back with nostalgia to 
that wretched way of life and its daily increment of hope. I was 
writing one day * writing 1 means sifting the gravel when I saw a tiny 
grain of rice glittering in the wash-trough. Shining out like a lighthouse 
it was! Que coma baunita! I doubt if there is anywhere in the world 

amsa mats bomita, a more beautiful sight When you looked at it, 

it almost gave you an electric shock! And a discussion began: 
Between Rosario and Laranjal there is a stone on a hill that sparkles. 
You can see it from miles away, especially at night/ Perhaps it s 
crystal?* *No, crystal doesn t light up at night. But diamonds do. And 
no (me goes to get it? With diamonds like that, it s been settled oh, 
ages and ages ago who s going to find them, and when! 

Those who are not sleepy go and stand, sometimes till dawn, at 
the water s edge, where they have seen the tracks of a boar, a capivara, 
or a tapir; they try, in vain, the batuque hunt beating the ground at 

regular intervals with a thick stick: poum . . . poum . . . poum Hie 

animals mistake this for the noise of fruit felling from the bough, and 
it seems that they always come up in the same order the boar first, 
and then the jaguar. 

Some there are, too, who simply keep the fire going. And so, after 
the incidents of the day have been talked over and the mate has 
been passed round, nothing remains but for each of us to slip into his 
hammock. Around him is his mosquito-net, half cocoon in construction 
and half kite, kept together and in place by an elaborate apparatus of 
string and thin sticks. Once inside, he takes care to raise its skirts so 
that none of them is trailing on die ground: and he bunches them 
together, forming a kind of pocket which he wedges shut with the 
heavy revolver that he keeps always within reach. Before long the rain 
begins to fall. 

28 Crusoe Country 

JL OR four days we had been working our way 
upstream. So numerous were die rapids that we had to unload our 
boats, hump the cargo overland, and reload as many as five times a day. 
The water ran down between rock formations that divided the river 
into several arms; in the middle, trees that had floated downstream, 
complete with branches, roots, earth, and attendant vegetation, were 
lying, caught on the reefs. On these improvised islands vegetable life 
had been quick to reassert itself indifferent even to the chaotic state in 
which the last flood-waters had left it Trees grew in every direction, 
with flowers in full bloom across waterfalls. It was difficult to tell 
whether the river s main purpose was to irrigate this astonishing garden, 
or whether it would be quite simply overwhelmed by the multiplicity 
of plants and liana which had arrogated to themselves not merely the 
vertical dimension, but all space s dimensions, now that the ordinary 
distinctions between earth and water had been abolished. One could 
no longer say Here is the river* or Here is the bank"; rather was there 
a labyrinth of bouquets kept ever fresh by running water, with earth 
burgeoning on the crest of the waves. This friendship between the 
elements extended to living creatures also: the native tribes needed an 
immense amount of ground to keep themselves alive, but in these 
reaches the superabundance of animal life made it dear that for many 
years past Man had been powerless to disturb the natural order of 
things. The trees seemed to bear almost as many monkeys as leaves: it 
was as if living fruits were dancing on their branches. Near the rocks 
which stood just at water-level you had only to stretch out your hand 
to stroke the jet-black plumage of the big coral- or amber-beaked 
mutwn, or thejacamin, with its watered silky-blue, like that of labra- 
dorite. These birds did not fly off at our approach, and when, like so 
many precious stones in motion, they picked their way between the 


324 The Tupi-Kawahib 

water-rounded liana and the many-leaved torrents, they put me in 
mind of those paintings from the studio of Breughel in which Paradise 
is portrayed as a place in which plants, animals, and human beings live 
together in tender intimacy: a place in which there has, as yet, been no 
cleavage in the animal universe. 

On the afternoon of the fifth day a slender canoe, tied up to the 
bank, told us that we had reached our destination. A thinly spread 
dump of trees would serve as our camping-ground. The Indian village 
was just over half a mile inland: its garden, about a hundred yards wide 
at its broadest point, stood in an egg-shaped clearing in which were 
three collective huts, hemispherical in shape, with their central pole 
sticking out of the top like a mast The two main huts faced one 
another in the broader section of the egg, on the edge of a dance-floor of 
beaten earth. The third stood at the pointed end of the clearing and was 
linked to the *main square by a footpath that led through the garden. 

There were twenty-five people in the village, in all, plus a small boy 
of about ten who was, so far as I could make out, a prisoner of war. He 
was treated, in any case, just like the other children. Clothes, for men 
and women alike, were as scanty as with the Nambikwara, except that 
all the men wore a conical penis-cover like that used by the Bororo and 
almost everyone wore dbte straw pom-pom, above their private parts, 
which was known, though less common, among the Nambikwara. 
Men and women alike wore lip-pieces of hardened resin that looked 
almost like amber, and necklaces of either discs or plaques of shining 
mother-of-pearl or, on occasion, shells, polished and entire. Wrists, 
biceps, calves, and ankles were adorned with tight-drawn strips of 
cotton. And the women had pierced their nasal septum to make way 
for an ornament made up of black and white discs, in alternation, strung 
together and drawn tight along a length of stiff fibre. 

The physical appearance of the Tupi-Kawahib was very different 
from that of the Nambikwara. They had very light skins, squat sturdy 
bodies, and short legs. Their pale skin combined with a faintly Mongo 
lian cast of feature to give some of the natives a Caucasian look. The 
Indians pluck out all their facial hair with the most minute care: the 
lashes by hand, and the eyebrows with wax which they allow to harden 
in situ for a number of days before getting down to work. In front, the 
hair of the head was cut or, more exactly, burnt off in a rounded 
fringe which left the forehead bare. The temples were bared by a 
procedure which I have never encountered elsewhere, the hair being 
pulled back in the knot of a thick rope twisted back upon itself. The 

Crusoe Country 325 

operator takes one end between his teeth: with one hand he keeps the 
loop of the rope open, while with the other he pulls so hard on the free 
end of the rope that it draws itself tighter and tighter, pulling out the 
hair by the roots as it does so. 

These Indians referred to themselves by the name of Munde, and 
there had been no previous mention of them in anthropological 
literature. They spoke a high-spirited language, in which the words 
ended with a sharply accented syllable, zip, zep 9 pep, zet, tap, kat: these 
underlined what they had to say with a noise like the clashing of 
cymbals. Their language had affinities with the now-vanished dialects 
of the Bas-Xingu, and with others recently recorded on die tributaries 
of the right bank of the Guapore: and the Munde live very near, be it 
remembered, to those sources. No one, to my knowledge, has visited 
the Munde since I was there, save for a woman missionary who met 
some of them, a litde before 1950, on the Haut Guapore, where three 
families had taken refuge. I spent a very agreeable week with them: rarely 
can hosts have been more unaffected, more patient, or more cordial. 
They invited me to admire the gardens in which they were growing 
maize, manioc, sweet potatoes, ground-nuts, tobacco, gourds, and 
several sorts of broad and haricot beans. When they dear a patch of 
ground they take care not to damage the palm-stumps, so rich in the 
fat white larvae which they eat with immense relish: there results from 
all this a curious farmyard, in which agriculture and stock-breeding are 
carried on side by side. 

The round huts allowed a diffused light, flecked with sunshine, to 
filter through from outside. They were very carefully built, with a 
dome-like interior made of long poles, planted in a cirde, and curved 
towards the top to fit into a number of forks, which stood at an oblique 
angle to them and acted as buttresses. Between these ten or a dozen 
hammocks of stitched cotton were slung. At a point twdve or thirteen 
feet from the ground all the poles met and were tied to the central pole, 
or mast, that pushed on up through the roof. Horizontal drdes of 
branches completed the main structure, and on top of that was a cupola 
of palm-leaves which had been folded in the same direction, one on top 
of another, to form a tile-like roof. The biggest hut was nearly forty 
feet in diameter. Four families lived in it, and each had to itself die area 
between two buttresses There were in all six such areas, but die two 
immediatdy facing the front and back doors were left empty, to allow 
people to come and go. I spent my days sitting on one of the litde 
wooden benches which the natives used. These were made up of the 

The Tupi-Kawahib 

scoopedr-out half of a palm-log, laid with the flat part downwards. 
We ate maize-seed grilled on a flat pottery plate and drank chicha of 
maize a drink half-way between beer and soup out of calabashes 
blackened on the inside with some sort of carbonaceous glazing. On 
the outside these were decorated with lines, zigzags, circles, and 
polygons, incised or poker-worked. 

Even without knowing the language, and although I had no 
interpreter, I could try to penetrate certain aspects of the natives 
thought, and of their society: the composition of the group, relation 
ships and the names given to them, the names of the parts of the body, 
and the vocabulary of colour, according to a scale which I kept always 
with me. The words for relationships, for the parts of the body, colours, 
and forms (those drawn on the calabashes, for instance) have often 
common properties which put them half-way between vocabulary 
and grammar: each group forms a system, and the manner in which 
different languages choose to separate or commingle the relationships 
therein expressed gives rise to a certain number of viable hypotheses, 
even where it does not define the distinctive characteristics, where these 
things are concerned, of this or that society 

And yet, although this adventure was begun with such high 
enthusiasm, it left me with a feeling of emptiness. 

I had wanted to pursue *the primitive* to its furthest point. Surely 
my wish had been gratified by these delightful people whom no white 
man had seen before me, and none would ever see again? My journey 
had been enthralling and, at the end of it, I had come upon my savages. 
But alas they were all too savage. Having encountered them only at 
the last moment, I could not put aside the time that was indispensable 
if I were to hope to know them properly. My resources needed careful 
husbanding, my companions and I myself were physically near to 
exhaustion a state shortly to be aggravated by the fevers which would 
follow the rains. Consequently, where I should have spent a month in 
serious consecutive study, I could match at most a few days for the 
purpose. There they were, all ready to teach me their customs and 
beliefs, and I knew nothing of their language. They were as close to 
me as an image seen in a looking-glass: I could touch, but not under 
stand them. I had at one and the same time my reward and my punish 
ment, for did not my mistake, and that of my profession, lie in the 
belief that men are not always men? That some are more deserving of 
our interest and our attention because there is something astonishing to 
us in their manners, or in the colour of their skins? No sooner are such 

Crusoe Country 327 

people known, or guessed at, than their strangeness drops away, and 
one might as well have stayed in one s own village. Or i as in the 
present case, their strangeness remained intact, then it was no good to 
me, for I could not even begin to analyse it. Between these two 
extremes, what are the equivocal cases which afford us the excuses by 
which we live? Who is, in the end, the one most defrauded by the 
disquiet which we arouse in the reader? Our remarks must be pushed a 
certain distance, if we are to make them intelligible, and yet they must 
be cut off half-way, since the people whom they astonish are very like 
those for whom the customs in question are a matter of course. Is it 
the reader who is deceived by his belief in us? Or ourselves, who have 
not the right to be satisfied before we have completely dissolved that 
residuum which gave our vanity its pretext? 

Let the earth speak, therefore, since the men are beyond our grasp. 
Over and above the delights which it had given me by the river s edge, 
let it at last answer up and yield the secret of its unspoiledness. What lay 
behind those confused appearances which are everything and nothing 
at one and the same time? If I take any particular scene and try to 
isolate it, that tree, that flower could be any other tree, any other 
flower. Could that also be a lie, that whole which gave me such delight, 
that whole whose parts vanished as soon as I tried to examine them 
individually? If I had to admit that it was real, I wanted at last to master 
it, all of it, down to its smallest detail. I turned a prosecutor s eye upon 
the enormous landscape, narrowing it down to a strip of clayey river- 
marge and a handful of grasses: nothing, there, to prove that when I 
next raised my eyes to the world about me I should not find the Bois 
de Boulogne stretched out all round that insignificant patch of ground. 
Yet that same ground was trodden daily by the most authentic of 
savages, though Man Friday s print had yet to be found there. 

The journey downstream went remarkably quickly. Our oarsmen, 
still carried away by the charm of the Munde, disdained to get out and 
carry our baggage. When faced with a stretch of rapids they pointed 
the prow of their canoe towards the foaming waters and, for a second 
or two, the landscape whizzed by at a tremendous pace and we our 
selves had the sensation of being brought to a halt and violently shaken. 
Then suddenly all was calm again and we were safely through the 
rapids and into dead water: only then did we feel dizzy. 

In two days we got to Pimenta Bueno, where I made a new plan 
one not to be understood without one or two moments of explan 
ation. Towards the end of his explorations, in i9i5,Rondon came upon 

328 The Tupi-Kawahib 

several Tupi-speaking native groups and managed to get into contact 
with three of them: the remainder proved irreducibly hostile. The 
largest of the groups was installed on the upper reaches of the Rio 
Machado, two days* march from the left bank and on a secondary 
tributary, the Igarape do Leitao (or sucking-pig stream ). This was the 
band, or dan, or of the Takwatip or bamboo . The term dan may 
not be quite apt, for the Tupi-Kawahib bands usually formed a single 
village, owned hunting-grounds whose frontiers were jealously guar 
ded, and practised exogamy rather from a wish to form alliances 
with neighbouring bands than from the application of any strict rule. 
The Takwatip were led by the chief Abaitara. On the same side of the 
river there were, to the north, a band known only by the name of its 
chief) Pitsara. To the south, on the Rio Tamuripa, the Ipotiwat (the 
name of a liana), whose chief was called Kamandjara: and then, 
between Rio Tamuripa and the Igarape du Cacoal, die Jabotifet, or 
tortoise-people , whose chief was called Maira. On the left bank of 
the Machado, in the valley of die Rio Muqui, lived the Paranawat, 
river-people , who are indeed still there, but respond to any attempt 
to malce contact widi them with a shower of arrows; and, a litde farther 
to the south, on the Igarape de Itapici, another unknown band. Such, at 
any rate, was the information which I was able to secure in 1938 from 
the rubber-collectors who had been in the area since the time of 
Rondoo s expedition. Rondon himself had given only fragmentary 
information about the Tupi-Kawahib. 

Talking to the civilized Tupi-Kawahib at the station of Pimenta 
Bueno, I managed to get together some twenty names of dans. The 
researches of Curt Nimuendaju, who was a man of learning as much as 
a field-anthropologist, have likewise thrown some light on the past 
history of the tribe. The term Kawahib* harks back to the name of an 
ancient Tupi tribe, the Cabahiba, which is often quoted in documents 
of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and was then located on the 
upper and middle reaches of the Rio Tapajoz, It would seem to have 
been progressivdy driven out of diat area by another Tupi tribe, the 
Mtmduracu: and, on its way towards the west, to have broken up into 
several groups, of which the only ones now known are the Parintintin 
of the lower reaches of the Machado and the Tupi-Kawahib, farther to 
the south. There is therefore every possibility that these Indians may 
be the last descendants of the great Tupi populations of the middle and 
lower reaches of the Amazon. These were rdated to the populations 
along the coa$t who were known, at the time of their apogee, to the 

Crusoe Country 329 

European travellers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries whose 
narratives laid the fuse for the anthropological studies of our own time; 
for it was under their unknowing influence that the political and moral 
philosophy of the Renaissance set out on the road which was to lead it 
to the French Revolution. To be, as seemed very possible, the first man 
to penetrate a still-intact Tupi-Kawahib village was to go back more 
than four hundred years and join hands with Lery, with Staden, with 
Soares de Souza, with Thevet, and even with Montaigne, who rumi 
nates in one of his essays (the one on cannibals) on a conversation with 
Tupi Indians whom he had met in Rouen. What a temptation! 

At the moment when Rondon made contact with the Tupi- 
Kawahib, the Takwatip, under the leadership of an ambitious and 
energetic chief, were in the process of extending their hegemony over 
a number of other bands. After spending months in die more or less 
desert-like solitudes of the plateau, Rondon s companions were dazzled 
by the mile upon mile (the language of the sertao lends itself readily 
to exaggeration) of plantations which the people of Abaitara had 
opened up in the humid forest or on the igapos> banks safe from 
inundation. Thanks to these plantations the Abaitara were able to 
revictual without any difficulty the explorers who had been until then 
directly under the shadow of famine. 

Two years after their first meeting, Rondon persuaded the Tupi- 
Kawahib to transfer their village to the right bank of the Machado, at 
the point still marked as aldeia dos indios, opposite the mouth of the 
Rio Sao Pedro (n.5S. and 62.3W.) on the International Map of the 
World on a scale of 1/1,000,000. This facilitated the work of victualling 
and surveillance, and it also made it easier to get Indian canoeists: on 
waters studded with rapids, fills, and narrow straits, the natives knew 
just how to manoeuvre their light bark shells. 

That new village had disappeared, but I could still get a description 
of it. As Rondon had noted at the time of his visit to the forest village, 
the huts were rectangular, had no walk, and consisted of a two-piece 
palm-roof supported by minks planted firmly in the earth. About 
twenty huts, measuring about four yards by six, were set out in a circle 
some twenty yards in diameter, in the middle of which were two more 
spacious habitations (eighteen yards by, fourteen). One of these latter 
was occupied by Abaitara himself with his wives and young children, 
and the other by his youngest married son. The two elder unmarried 
sons lived like die rest of the population in the peripheral huts. Like 
the other bachelors, they were fed in the chief s hut. Many chicken-runs 

33Q The Tupi-Kawahib 

were laid out in the area between the central huts and those of the 
outer circle. 

AH that was far removed from the vast Tupi dwellings described by 
the travellers of the sixteenth century, but from the five to six hundred 
inhabitants of Abaitara s time to the villages of today the distance is 
greater still. In 1925 Abaitara was murdered. The death of this emperor 
of die upper Machado initiated a period of violent happenings in a 
village already reduced by the influenza epidemic of 1918-20 to twenty- 
five men, twenty-two women, and twelve children. In that same year, 
1925, four people, among them the murderer of Abaitara, were killed 
in acts of vengeance, most of them sexual in origin. Shortly after this 
the survivors decided to abandon the village and go back to the station 
of Pimenta Bueno, two days journey upstream by canoe. In 1938 their 
strength was down to five men, one woman, and one little girl. They 
spoke a kind of rusticated Portuguese and appeared to have thrown in 
their lot with the neo-Brazilian population of the post. It might have 
seemed as if the history of die Tupt-Kawahib had come to an end at 
any rate as regards the right bank of the Machado, and with the 
exception of an irreducible group of Paranawat on the left bank, in the 
village of die Rio Muqui. 

And yet when I arrived at Pimenta Bueno in October 193 8 1 learned 
that in 1935 an unknown group of Tupi-Kawahib had appeared on the 
river; they had been seen again two years later and the last surviving 
son of Abaitara (who bore his father s name and will be so designated 
in this story) had gone to see them in their village, which was an 
isolated point in the forest, two days* march from the Rio Machado 
and with no path to point the way. He had persuaded the chief of the 
little group to promise that he would come, with his people, and pay 
him, Abaia Abaitara, a visit during the following year at about the 
time, that is to say, at which we ourselves arrived at Pimenta Bueno. 
This promise had a great importance for the native inhabitants of the 
post. Themselves suffering from a shortage of womenfolk (one grown 
woman to five men), they had been particularly attentive to young 
Abaitara s description of how, in the unknown village, there were a 
number of superfluous women. Himself a widower for some years 
past, he expected that the establishment of friendly relations with his 
savage kindred would allow him to procure himself a wife. These were 
the circumstances in which, not without difficulty (for he feared that 
the adventure might have bad consequences), I persuaded him to bring 
about a meeting before the appointed time, and to act as my guide. 

Crusoe Country 331 

The point at which we had to plunge into the forest to get to the 
Tupi-Kawahib was at the mouth of the Igarape do Porquinho, three 
days downstream by canoe from the post of Kmenta Bueno. The 
Igarape was a slender Htde stream that debouched into the Madhado. 
Not far from there, we happened on a little natural clearing, which was 
safe from floods since the banks at that point were several yards high. 
There we disembarked our equipment: a few boxes of presents for the 
natives and provisions of dried meat, beans, and rice. We set up a camp 
rather more solid than usual, since it had to last until we got back to it. 
A whole day was spent in this, and in the organization of our journey 
a rather complex matter, this last. I had separated from part of my 
troop, as I have already explained, and as bad luck would have it Jehan 
Vellard, the expedition s doctor, had an attack of malaria and had had 
to go on ahead to rest in a little rubber-collectors post, three days 
upstream by boat and these distances have to be doubled or tripled 
when it is a question of going upstream in such difficult waters. We 
were thus reduced to Luis de Castro Faria, my Brazilian companion, 
Abaitara, myself, and five men, two of whom would guard the camp 
while the other three followed us into the forest. With such restricted 
numbers, and as each of us was already loaded up with hammock, 
blanket, mosquito-net, gun, and ammunition, it was out of the question 
to take with us food other than a litde coffee, some dried meat, and some 
farinha d agua. This form offarinha is made from manioc soaked in 
the river (whence its name) and then fermented. It comes in the form 
of small lumps, hard as stone, which, when suitably moistened, taste 
deliriously of butter. For the rest we counted on the tocm Brazii-ntifcs 
which abound in the area. One single ourifo, or hedgehog , of these 
(a hard round dump of nuts which can kill a man if it fells on him from 
a height of seventy or a hundred feet) can provide several people with a 
meal of thirty to forty big triangular nuts apiece, each with a milky 
and bluish meat to it, if the hedgehog* is held firm between one s feet 
and suitably attacked with a terfado. 

We left before dawn, traversing to begin with the lagtiros, areas 
almost bare of vegetation, in which the rock of the plateau, shortly to 
disappear beneath the alluvial soil, can still be seen in large disgarnished 
patches. Next came fields ofsapezals, tall spear-shaped grasses: and, two 
hours later, we were in the forest. 

29 In the Forest 

JCvER since my childhood, the sea has aroused 
mixed feelings in me. The shore itself, and that marginal area ceded 
from time to time by the reflux which prolongs it these I find 
attractive by reason of the challenge which they offer to our under 
takings, the unexpected universe which lies hidden within them, and 
dbe possibilities which they offer of observations and discoveries most 
flattering to the imagination. Like Benvenuto Cellini, whom I find 
more sympathetic than the masters of the Quattrocento, I enjoy 
walking on shores left bare by the receding tide, following, round some 
steep slope, the itinerary which that tide has imposed upon me; picking 
op stones with holes through the middle of them, shells whose 
geometry has been reshaped by the motion of the waves, or spectral 
fragments of sea-wrack, and making a private museum of these things: 
a museum which, for a moment, seems quite the equal of those other 
museums to which only masterpieces are admitted. Perhaps, after all, 
those masterpieces derive from methods of work which, though rooted 
in the mind rather than in die palpable world, may not be fundamen 
tally different from those with which Nature amuses herself. 

But as I am neither sailor nor fisherman, I fed myself diminished by 
this mass of water which robs me of half my universe more than half, 
indeed, since it makes its presence known some way inland, giving 
the landscape, as often as not, a touch of austerity. It seems to me that 
the sea destroys the normal variety of the earth. Enormous spaces and 
supplementary colours it may offer to the eye but at the price of a 
deadening monotony, a flat sameness, where never a hidden valley 
keeps in reserve the surprises on which my imagination feeds. 

And, what is more, the pleasures which the sea has to offer are now 
no longer available to us. Like an animal whose carapace thickens with 
age, forming an impenetrable crust through which the epidermis can 


In the Forest 333 

no longer breathe, thus hastening the onset of old age, most European 
countries have allowed their coasts to become cluttered with villas, 
hotels, and casinos. Whereas the littoral once gave a foretaste of the 
ocean s great solitudes, it has become a kind of front line, where 
mankind from time to time mobilizes all its forces for a fbllr-scale 
attack on liberty: but the value of that liberty is marked down by the 
very conditions in which we allow ourselves to grasp hold of it, A beach 
was once a place where the sea yielded up the results of commotions 
many thousands of years in the making, admitting us, in this way, to 
an astonishing museum in which Nature always ranked herself with 
the avant-garde; today that same beach is trodden by great crowds and 
serves merely as a depository for their rubbish. 

So I prefer the mountains to the sea; and for some years past this 
preference has taken the form of a jealous passion. I hated all those who 
shared my predilection, for they were a menace to the solitude I value 
so highly; and I despised those others for whom mountains meant 
merely physical exhaustion and a constricted horizon and who were, 
for that reason, unable to share in my emotions. The only thing that 
would have satisfied me would have been for the entire world to admit 
to the superiority of mountains and grant me the monopoly of their 
enjoyment. I must add that my feelings did not extend to high moun 
tains: these had already disappointed me, because of the ambiguous 
character of the delights and I do not deny them that they have to 
offer; these delights are physical in the extreme organic, one might 
say, in view of die efforts involved. But they have a formal, almost an 
abstract quality in so much as one s attention, absorbed by problems of 
a technical character, is often drawn away from the splendours of 
Nature and entirely engrossed by preoccupations relating rather to 
mechanics or geometry. What I liked best were pasture-mountains 
and, above all, the zone between four thousand five hundred and six 
thousand seven hundred and fifty feet: the heights are not great enough, 
as yet, to impoverish the landscape, as is the case higher up, and while 
they make it difficult to cultivate the land they seem, in other respects, 
to urge Nature on to an activity more vivid, more sharply contrasted 
than that found in the valley below. On these lofty balconies, and with 
that undomesticated landscape before one, it is easy, though doubtless 
erroneous, to imagine that Man in his beginnings was confronted with 
just such a sight as meets one s eyes. 

If the sea presents, in my opinion, a landscape many degrees below 
proof, mountains offer, by contrast, a world in a state of intense 

334 The Tupi-Kawakib 

concentration. Concentrated it is, in fact, in the strict sense of the word, 
in that the earth is pleated and folded in such a way as to offer the 
amount of surface for a given area. A denser universe, it 

keeps its promises longer: the instability of the climate and the differ 
ences due to the height, the nature of the soil, and the fact of its exposure 
to the air all favour a sharp and direct contrast between one season 
and another, 2nd likewise between level ground and steep slopes. 
Unlike so many people, I was not at all depressed by a sojourn in a 
narrow valley where the slopes, so close to one another as to take on 
the look of high walls, allowed one to glimpse only a small section of 
the sky and to enjoy at most a few hours of sunlight. On the contrary, 
I found an immense vitality in the upended landscape. Instead of 
submitting passively to my gaze, like a picture that can be studied 
without one s giving anything of oneself the mountain scene invited 
me to a conversation, as it were, in which we both had to give of our 
best. I made over to the mountains the physical effort that it cost me to 
explore them, and in return their true nature was revealed to me. At 
once rebellious and provocative, never revealing more than half of 
itself at any one time, keeping the other half fresh and intact for those 
complementary perspectives which would open up as I clambered up 
or down its dopes, the mountain scene joined with me in a kind of 
dance and a dance in which, I felt, I could move the more freely for 
having so firm a grasp of the great truths which had inspired it. 

And yet I have to admit that, although I do not feel that I myself 
have changed, my love for the mountains is draining away from 
me like a wave running backwards down the sand. My thoughts are 
unchanged, but the mountains have taken leave of me. Their unchang 
ing joys mean less and less to me, so long and so intently have I sought 
them out. Surprise itself has become familiar to me as I follow my oft- 
trodden routes. When I climb, it is not among bracken and rock-face, 
but among the phantoms of my memories. Those memories have lost 
their charm for me, on two separate counts: first, because long usage 
has robbed them of all novelty; and second, because a pleasure which 
grows a little less vivid with each repetition can only be had at the price 
of an effort which grows greater and greater with the years. I am getting 
older, but the only evidence of it is that the cutting edge of my 
projects is growing steadily blunter. I can still carry them through, but 
their fulfilment no longer brings me the satisfaction on which I could 
so often and so undisappointedly count. 

What attracts me now is the forest. It has the same magic as the 

In the Forest 335 

mountains, but in a more peaceable, more welcoming form. Having 
to cross and. recross the desert-like savannahs of central Brazil has 
taught me to appreciate anew the luxuriant Nature beloved of the 
ancients: young grass, flowers, and the dewy freshness of brakes. No 
longer could I look to the stony Cevennes with the intransigent 
passion of old; and I realized that my generation s enthusiasm for 
Provence was a ruse of which we were first the authors and later the 
victims. In the interests of discovery that greatest of joys, and one of 
which civilization was soon to deprive us we sacrificed to novelty 
the objective which should justify it. We had neglected that depart 
ment of Nature, while there were others for us to batten on. Now 
that the finest was no longer available to us, we had to scale down 
our ambitions to those which were still within our reach, and set our 
selves to glorify what was dry and hard, since nothing else remained 
to us. 

But in that forced march we had forgotten die forest. As dense as 
our cities, it was inhabited by other beings beings organized in a 
society which, better than either the high peaks or the sun-baked 
fladands, had known how to keep us at a distance: a collectivity of trees 
and plants that covered our tracks as soon as we had passed. Often 
difficult to penetrate, the forest demands of those who enter it con^ 
cessions every bit as weighty, if less spectacular, than those exac^d by 
the mountains from the walker. Its horizon, less extensive than that of 
the great mountain ranges, closes in on the traveller, isolating him 
as completely, as any of the desert s empty perspectives. A world of 
grasses, flowers, mushrooms, and insects leads there an independent 
life of its own, to which patience and humility are our only passports. 
A hundred yards from the edge of the forest, and the world outside is 
abolished. One universe gives place to another less agreeable to look 
at, but rich in rewards for senses nearer to the spirit: hearing, I mean, 
and smell. Good things one had thought never to experience agpm are 
restored to one: silence, coolness, peace. In our intimassf TO&.tbe 
vegetable world, we enjoy those things which the sea fip&ao longer 
give us and for which the mountains exact too high a plk&u* 

For me to have been convinced of this, it may wdi lave been 
indispensable that the forest should first appear to me in its most 
virulent form, so that its universal traits were immediately evident. For 
between the forest as we know it in Europe, and the forest into which I 
plunged en route to the Tupi-Kawahibs, the distance is so great that I 
do not know how best to express it. 

336 The Tupi-Kawahib 

Seen from outside, the Amazonian forest looks like a great heap of 
stationary bubbles, a vertical accumulation of green blisters. It is as if 
die river-marge had been visited, everywhere and at the same time, 
by some pathological affliction. But once the film is broken, and the 
traveler penetrates into the interior, all is changed: seen from within, 
the confused mass becomes a monumental universe The forest is no 
kmger a scene of terrestrial disorder and could rather be taken for a 
new planetary world, which is as rich as our own and has taken its 

Once the eye has adjusted itself to the nearness of one plane to 
another, and the mind has overcome its first sensation of being over 
whelmed, a complicated system presents itself. Storeys superimposed 
one on the other may be discerned, and for all the abrupt changes of 
level and intermittent mulching which interfere with, their alignment, 
these are all constructed in the same way. First comes the head-high 
crest of plants and grasses. Next, the pale trunks of trees and liana, free 
for a brief space to grow untrammelled by vegetation. Shortly, how 
ever, these trunks vanish, masked by the foliage of bushes or the scarlet 
flowers of the wild banana or pacova. The trunks re-emerge fleetingly, 
only to disappear again among the palm-leaves, and make a third 
appearance at the point where their first branches stand out hori 
zontally. They are leafless; but, just as a ship has its rigging, so have 
these branches an outcrop of epiphytal plants orchids or bromeliaceae. 
And finally, almost out of sight, the forest-universe ends in huge 
cupolas, some green, some shorn of their leaves; these latter are covered 
with flowers white, yellow, orange, purple, or mauve in which a 
European spectator is amazed to recognize the freshness of the 
European spring, but on a scale so disproportionate that he can only 
compare it with, if anything, the majestic and luxurious blaze of colour 
which we associate with autumn. 

To these aerial storeys others closely corresponding may be found 
Beneath the traveller s feet. For it would be an illusion to suppose that 
he is walking *on the ground . That ground is buried deep beneath 
tangle upon tangle of roots, suckers, mosses, and tufts of grass. Let him 
tread too heavily on unsteady ground, and he may find himself falling 
disconcertingly far, at times. In my case, Luanda s presence added 
a further complication. 

Luanda was a little female monkey with a prehensile tail. Her skin 
was mauve and her fur miniver. She was of the species Lag&ihrpc, 
commonly called barrigudo, because of its characteristic big belly. I got 

In the Forest 337 

her, when she was a few weeks old, from a Nambikwara woman who 
had taken pity on her and carried her, night and day, clamped to the 
head-dress which represented for the little creature the furred backbone 
of her mother. (Mother monkeys carry their young on their backs.) I 
fed her on spoonfuls of condensed milk, and at night a drop or two of 
whisky would send her into the soundest of sleeps, leaving me free. But 
during the daytime I could get her to make, at most, a compromise: 
that she would leave go of my hair and settle for my left boot instead. 
And there she would ding, with all four paws, just above my toes, 
from morning till night. On horse-back this was all very well, and it 
was manageable when we were in our boats. But on foot it was quite 
a different matter, for at every bramble, every hollow in the ground, 
every low branch, she would give a loud cry. All my attempts to make 
her move to my arm, my shoulder, and even to my hair, were in vain. 
Only the left boot would do: it was her only protection, her sole point 
of security in the forest. She was a native of that forest, and yet a 
month or two in the company of human beings had made her as great 
a stranger to it as if she had grown up among the refinements of 
civilization. And so it was that, as I limped along with my left leg, 
doing my best not to lose sight of Abaitara s back, my eardrums were 
pierced by Luanda s cries of alarm. Abaitara forged ahead with a. short 
and rapid step in the green half-light, working his way round trees 
so thick that I would think for a moment that he had disappeared, 
cutting a path through bushes and liana, and darting off to left or to 
right on an itinerary which, though unintelligible to the rest of us, took 
us ever deeper into the forest. 

To forget my tiredness, I let my mind go free. Short poems formed 
in my head to die rhythm of our march and I would run over them, 
hour by hour, till they were like a mouthful of food so often chewed 
as to have no longer any flavour, and yet so acceptable, for its modest 
companionship, that one hesitates either to swallow it or to spit it out. 
The aquarium-like environment of the forest prompted this quatrain: 

Dans la foret cephalopode 

gros coquillage chevdu 

de vase, sur des rochers roses qu erode 

le ventre des poissons-lune d Honolulu 

Or else, no doubt for the sake of contrast, I summoned up the 
dismal memory of a Parisian suburb: 

338 The Tupi-Kawahib 

On a nettoye Iterbc paillasson 
les paves luisent savonnes 
sur 1 avenue les arbres sont 
de grands balais abandonnes 

And then this last one, which never seemed to me quite finished, 
though it is complete in form. Even today it torments me when I go 
for a long walk: 

Amazone, chere Amazone 
vous qui n avez pas de sein droit 
vous nous en racontez de bonnes 
mais vos chemins sont trop etroits 

Towards the end of the morning we were working our way round 
a big bush when we suddenly found ourselves face to face with two 
natives who were travelling in the opposite direction. The older of the 
two was about forty. Dressed in a tattered pair of pyjamas, he wore his 
hak down to his shoulders. The other had his hair cut short and was 
entirely naked, save for the little cornet of straw which covered his 
penis. On his back, in a basket of green palm-leaves tied tightly round 
die creature s body, was a large harpy-eagle. Trussed like a chicken, it 
presented a lamentable appearance, despite its grey-and-white-striped 
plumage and its head, with powerful yellow beak, and crown of 
feathers standing on end. Each of die two natives carried a bow and 

From the conversation which followed between them and Abaitara 
it emerged that they were, respectively, the chief of the village we were 
hoping to get to, and his right-hand man. They had gone on ahead of 
the other villagers, who were wandering somewhere in the forest. The 
whole party was bound for the Machado with the object of paying 
their visit, promised a year previously, to Pinienta Bueno. The eagle 
was intended as a present for their hosts. All this did not really suit us, 
for we wanted not only to meet them, but to meet them in their own 
village. It was only after they had been promised a great many gifts 
when they got to the Porqtrinho camp that they agreed, with -the 
greatest reluctance, to turn in their tracks, inarch back with us, and 
make us welcome in their village. This done, we would set off, all 
together, by river. Once we had agreed on all this, the trussed eagle 
was jettisoned without ceremony by the side of a stream, where it 

In the Forest 339 

seemed inevitable that it would very soon either die of hunger or be 
eaten alive by ants. Nothing more was said about it during the next 
fifteen days, except that a summary death certificate* was pronounced: 
He s dead, that eagle/ The two Kawahib vanished into the forest to 
tell their families of our arrival, and we continued on our way. 

The incident of the eagle set me thinking. Several ancient authors 
relate that the Tupi breed eagles, feed them on monkeys 5 flesh, and 
periodically strip them of their feathers. Rondon had noted this among 
the Tupi-Kawahib, and other observers reported it among certain 
tribes of the Xingu and the Araguaya. It was not surprising, therefore, 
that a Tupi-Kawahib group should have preserved the custom, nor that 
the eagle, which they considered as their most precious property, should 
be taken with them as a gift, if these natives had really made up their 
minds (as I was beginning to suspect, and as I later verified) to leave 
their village for good and throw in their lot with civilization. But that 
only made more incomprehensible their decision to abandon the eagle 
to its pitiable fate. Yet the history of colonization, whether in South 
America or elsewhere, is marked by these radical renunciations of 
traditional values and repudiations of a style of life, in which the loss of 
certain elements at once causes all other elements to be marked down: 
perhaps I had just witnessed a characteristic instance of this 

We made a scratch meal of a few strips of grilled and still-salted 
xarque, enlivened with what we could get from the forest: some tocan 
nuts; the fruit white-fleshed, acid in taste, foamy in texture of the 
wild cocoa-plant; berries from the pama tree; fruit and seeds from the 
caju of the woods. It rained all night on the palmrleaf awnings that 
protected our hammocks. At dawn the forest, silent during the day, 
was torn from end to end for several minutes by the cries of monkey 
and parrot. And on we went, trying never to lose sight of the back of 
the man immediately ahead of us, convinced that even a few yards *oflf 
course* would put us out of earshot, with no hope of retrieving the 
path. For one of the most striking characteristics of the forest is its "way 
of seeming to merge into an element heavier than air: such light as 
gets through is greenish and enfeebled, and the human voice does 
not carry. The extraordinary silence which reigns as a consequence, 
perhaps, of this condition would communicate its example to the 
traveller if he were not already disinclined to speak, so intent is he upon 
not losing his way. His moral situation combines with his physical state 
to create an almost intolerable feeling of oppression. 

340 The Tupi-Kawahib 

From time to time our guide would lean over the edge of his 
invisible track, deftly lift the corner of a leaf, and show us the sharp 
point of a stick of bamboo that had been planted obliquely in the 
ground to pierce the foot of any enemy who happened to come by. 
These spikes are called min by the Tupi-Kawahib, who use them to 
protect the outskirts of their villages: the Tupi of former times used 
larger ones. 

During the afternoon we reached a castanhal, or group of chestnut- 
trees around which the natives (who exploit the forest systematically) 
had opened up a little clearing, the better to collectsuch fruit as fell from 

FIG. 51. Bamboo sticks guarding die approach-way 
to the village 

the trees. The whole strength of the village had camped out there, the 
men naked save for the penis-cap which we had already encountered 
on die chiefs lieutenant, and the women also naked, but for the slip of 
woven cotton round their loins: originally this was dyed red with 
urucu-dye, but with use it had faded to a russet colour. 

There were in all six women and seven men, one of the men being 
an adolescent, and three little girls who seemed to be aged one, two, 
and three respectively. One could hardly conceive of a smaller group 
holding out for at least thirteen years (since the disappearance of 
Abaitara s village, that is to say), cut off from any contact with the outer 
world* Among the company were two people paralysed from the 
waist down: a young girl who supported herself on two sticks and a 

In the Forest 341 

man, also young, who dragged himself along the ground like a legless 
cripple. His knees stood out above his fleshless legs, which were 
swollen on their inner side and looked as if they were afflicted with 
serosity. The toes of the left foot were paralysed, but those of the right 
foot could still be moved. Yet these two cripples managed to cover 
long distances in the forest with no apparent difficulty. Was it polio 
myelitis, or some other virus, which had gone on ahead of any real 
contact with civilization? When I was confronted with these unhappy 
people, who had been left to their own devices in the midst of a Nature 
as hostile as any that men have to face, it was heart-rending to thi-nlc 
back to the page on which Thevet speaks with such admiration of the 
Tupi whom he visited in die sixteenth century: A people, he says, 
made of the same stuff as ourselves, who have never as yet been 
afflicted with leprosy, or paralysis, or lethargy, or chancres, or other 
bodily ailments which are apparent to the eye.* He had no idea that he 
and his companions were the advance guard of these evils. 

30 The Crickets Village 



. o WARDS the end of the afternoon we got to the 
village, which stood in an artificial clearing immediately above the 
narrow valley of a torrent, which I was able later to identify as the 
Igarape do Leitao, a tributary of the right bank of the Machado, into 
which it flows a mile or two downstream from the confluence of the 
Madbado and the Muqui. 

The village consisted of four more or less square houses that stood 
in line parallel to the course of the torrent. Two of the houses the 
largest were lived in: so much was evident from the hammocks, made 
from cotton strings knotted together and strung up between stakes. 
Hie two others, one of which stood between the two inhabited houses, 
had not been occupied for a long time and looked rather like shelters 
or store-houses. At first glance these houses looked to be identical with 
the Brazilian dwelling-houses of the same region. But in reality they 
were differently conceived, in that the lay-out of die stakes which 
supported the high gabled roof of palmr-leaves was similar to that of 
the wooden substructure of the roof itself, except that it was smaller, 
so that the building had the profile of a square mushroom. And yet 
this structure was not dear to the eye, because of the false walls which 
encircled the house up to the level of the roof but were not joined on 
to it These palisades for that is what they were consisted of palm- 
trunks split down the middle, planted side by side, and tied one to the 
other, with their convex side looking outwards. In the case of the 
principal house that which stood between the two store-houses these 
trunks were cut out to allow of the making of five-sided loopholes, and 
their outer surface was covered with paintings roughly executed in red 
and black with urucu and resin. These pictures represented, according 
to one of the natives, successively a human being, some women, a 
harpy-eagle, some children, an object in the shape of a loophole, a 



The Crickets Village 

toad, a dog, a large unidentified quadruped, two strips of zig-zag 
shapes, two fish, a jaguar, and finally a symmetrical motif composed of 
squares, crescents, and arches. 

These houses were not at all like the native habitations of the 
neighbouring tribes. It is probable, however, that their form is trad 
itional. When Rondon discovered the Tupi-Kawahib, their houses 
were already square or rectangular, with a gabled roo Nor does the 
mushroom-like structure correspond to any Brazilian technique. The 
existence of these high-roofed houses is, moreover, confirmed by 

FIG. 52. Detail of the paintings on the outside of a hut 

archaeological documents dating back to more than one pre- 
Colombian civilization. 

Another point of originality among the Tupi-Kawahib: like their 
Parintintin cousins, they neither cultivate nor use tobacco. When he 
saw us unpacking our stores of tobacco-rope, die chief of the village 
said sarcastically: laneapit human droppings! The reports of the 
Rondon Commission relate, moreover, that when they first made 
contact with the Tupi-Kawahib, the Indians were so exasperated by 
the presence of any smoker that they would snatch his cigar or cigarette 
out of his mouth. And yet, unlike the Parintintin, the Tupi-Kawahib 

344 The Tupi-Kawahib 

have a word for tobacco: tabak, the same word as we have in French, 
which derives from the ancient lingo of the natives of the Antilles and 
may well be of Carib origin. There may be a link with the dialects of 
the Guapor6, which have the same term, either because they have 
borrowed it from the Spanish (the Portuguese say Junto) or because 
the Goapore cultures represent the farthest point reached to the south 
west by an ancient Caribbean civilization (and there is much to support 
this hypothesis) which may in this way have left its traces in the lower 
valley of the Xingu. I must add that the Nambikwara are inveterate 
smokers, whereas the other neighbours of the Tupi-Kawahib, the 
Munde and the Kepkiriwat, take their tobacco in powder form with 
the aid of tubular inhalers. So that there is something enigmatic about 
the presence in the middle of Brazil of a group of tobaccoless tribes 
and all the more so if we consider the Tupi of ancient times were great 

For lack of tobacco we were going to be received in the village by 
what the French travellers of the sixteenth century called a cahouin 
kaui is the Tupi-Kawahib word or, in other words, a drinking-party 
at which would be served a chicha made from maize: several varieties of 
maize were grown in patches of ground burnt dear for the purpose on 
tibe outskirts of the village. Our ancient authors have described the great 
pots, each as tall as a man, in which the liquid was prepared, and the 
role assigned therein to the virgins of the tribe (each had to spit 
copiously into the brew to make sure that it fermented). Perhaps die 
Tupi-Kawahib pots were too small: perhaps the village was short of 
virgins. The three little girls were summoned, at any rate, and made to 
spit into the decoction of pounded seed. As the delicious drink, as 
refreshing as it was reborative, was drunk that same evening its 
fermentation can hardly be said to have been accelerated. 

While visiting the gardens I noted, first, the big wooden cage in 
which the eagle had been kept; it was still strewn with bones. There 
were little plantations of ground-nuts, beans, peppers of various kinds, 
little yams, sweet potatoes, manioc, and maize. The natives supple 
mented these resources by the collection of whatever grew wild near 
at hand. For this purpose they exploited the tall grasses of the forest, 
tying the tops of several stalks together in such a way that the fallen 
seeds collected in little heaps on the ground. These they heated on a 
flat piece of pottery till they burst open like popcorn whose taste is 
not dissimilar, by the way. 

While the cahouin, enriched by various blendings and ebullitions, 

The Crickets Village 345 

was going from hand to hand, distributed by the women wilt ladles 
made from the halves of a calabash, I took advantage of the last hours 
of daylight to scrutinize the Indians. 

Apart from their cotton loincloths, the women wore tight little 
wrist- and ankle-bands, and necklaces made of tapirs* teeth, or carved 
pieces of deer-bone. Their faces were tattooed with the blue-black juice 
of the genipa: on their cheeks, a thick oblique line ran from the lobe of 
the ear to the corner of the lips, which was marked with four little 
vertical lines. On the chin were four horizontal lines, one above the 
other, each ornamented on its underside with a fringe of vertical 

FIG. 53. Another example of hut-paintings 

stripes. The hair, usually short, was often combed with a large-toothed 
comb, or with some more delicate instrument, made of thin sticks of 
wood held in pkce with cotton. 

The men wore nothing but the conical penis-cover which I have 
already described. One native was making himself a new one at that 
very moment. He took a fresh jwcoytf leaf, peeled off die two sides from 
the central stalk, and relieved them of their tough outer edge. Then he 
folded them in two, lengthwise. By making the two pieces overlap, 
one over the other (they were about a foot long and three inches 
broad), so that the two folds joined at right angles, he got a sort of 
square, with two thicknesses of leaf on the sides and four at the top, 
where the two bands crossed over one another. This square was then 
folded back upon itself diagonally, and its two arms were cut off and 

346 The Tupi-Kawahib 

thrown away, leaving the craftsman with a little isosceles triangle made 
up of eight thicknesses of leaf. This triangle he rounded on his thumb, 
working from front to back, the points of the two sharper angles being 
cut open and the sides sewn up with a wooden needle and some vege 
table thread. The little object was ready: all that remained was to put 
it in position, pulling back the foreskin across the opening so that it 
would not 611 off, and so that the tension of the skin would keep the 
member vertical. All the men wore an accessory of this sort and if any 
of them were to lose his cap he would at once draw the pulled-back 
extremity of his prepuce under the cord which he wore round his loins. 

The houses were almost empty. I noticed hammocks made of cotton 
thread: a few earthenware pots and a basin in which maize or manioc 
pulp could be dried over the fire; some calabashes: a few wooden 
pestles and mortars; some manioc-scrapers made of thorn-inlaid wood; 
some wickerwork sieves; burins made of rodents teeth; a few spindles; 
and some bows, about five feet in length. The arrows were of several 
kinds; either with points and bamboo sharpened for hunting, saw- 
edged for war or with multiple points; these last were used for fishing. 
Lastly I noted some musical instruments; Pan-pipes with thirteen tubes, 
and four-holed flageolets. 

When night fell, the chief ceremoniously brought us the cahouin and 
a rago&t of giant beans and peppers. Hot as these were to the palate, 
they were a delight after six months among the Nambikwara, who 
know nothing of either salt or pepper and whose palates are so delicate 
that all food has to be drenched in water, and thus effectively cooled, 
before they can begin to eat. The native salt came in a little calabash; 
it was a brownish liquid so bitter that the chief, who contented himself 
with watching us eat, insisted on tasting it in our presence to reassure 
us that it was not a poison. This condiment is prepared with the ashes 
of the toari bronco wood. Modest as the meal was, it was served with 
a dignity which reminded me that the Tupi chiefs of old were in 
honour bound, as one traveller put it, to "keep open house*. 

A still more curious detail is that, after a night in one of the store 
houses, I found that my leather belt had been half-eaten by crickets. 
Never, in all the tribes whose existence I had shared, had I suffered such 
an assault; neither among the Kaingang, nor the Caduveo, nor the 
Bororo, nor the Paressi, nor the Nambikwara, nor the Munde. It was 
among the Tupi that I was destined to re-live the misadventures familiar 
four centuries earlier to Yves d Evreux and Jean de Lery : 1 must tell of 
these little creatures, no bigger than our crickets, who make for the 

The Crickets Village 347 

camp-fire at night in great troops and bands, and eat into anything that 
they can find. But above all things they make for the leather of shoes or 
neckbands, eating away the whole of the outer cover, so that whm 
those who own such things wake up in the morning they find them 
white and flaky/ Unlike the termite, and many another destructive 
insect, the cricket merely eats into the outer surface of the leather, so 
that my belt was, in effect, white and flaky when I reached for it, 
witnessing to a strange and exclusive association, many centuries did, 
between a species of insect and a group of human beings. 

As soon as the sun was up one of our men went into the forest to 
shoot at the pigeons which were fluttering about in the clearing. After 
a little while we heard a shot. No one paid any attention until a native 
came running up, livid and in high excitement: he tried to explain what 
had happened. Abaitara was not at hand to interpret, but we could hear 
from the direction of the forest loud cries growing steadily nearer, and 
soon a man came running across the plantations, holding Ibis right fore 
arm in his left hand. From that fore-arm there was dangling a hand 
reduced to bleeding ribbons. He had leaned on the barrel of his gun, and 
the gun had gone off. Luis and I discussed what should be done. Three 
fingers were blown practically off and the palm seemed to be more or 
less in pieces. It looked as if the hand would have to be amputated. Yet 
we ourselves did not quite dare to do this: to make a cripple, that is 
to say, of Emydio, whom we had recruited, together with his 
brother, in a little village on the outskirts of Cuiaba. His youth made us 
feel particularly responsible for him, and he had shown peasant qualities 
of loyalty and fine feeling which had made us very fond of him. His 
job in life was to look after beasts of burden: and the proper loading 
of mules and oxen calls for great manual skill. For him to lose a hand 
would be a catastrophe. Not without apprehension, we decided to put 
the fingers back in place, as best we could, dress and bandage the 
wound with the means at our disposal, and start back at once. Once 
back at our camp, Luis would take the wounded man, to Urupa, where 
our doctor was, and if the natives were to agree to this scheme I would 
stay and camp out with them on the river-bank, until the galiot came 
back to fetch me fifteen days later (it would take three days to go 
downriver and about a week for the return trip). 

The Indians were terrified by the accident and seemed afraid that 
it might make us less well disposed towards them. They accepted, 
therefore, every suggestion that was made to diem; and while they 
once again made ready to leave we plunged into the forest. 

348 The Tupi-Kawahib 

It was a nightmarish journey, and I remember very little about it. 
The wounded man was delirious all the way, and walked so fast that 
we couldn t keep up with. him. He took the lead, marching ahead even 
of the guide, never showing the slightest hesitation about our route, 
though no trace of it seemed to remain. At night we contrived to put 
him to sleep with drugs, and as he luckily had no experience of 
medicines our draughts took their full effect. When we got to our 
camp cm the afternoon of the foEowing day we found that his hand 
was full of worms* which were causing him intolerable pain. But when 
we got him to the doctor three days later the wound was clear of 
gangrene, the worms having eaten the bad flesh as and when it putre 
fied. There was no longer any need to amputate, and after a month- 
long series of small surgical operations (VeUard s skills as vivisector and 
entomologist were very useful there) we got Emydio s hand back 
into shape. Arriving at Madeira in December, I sent him back to 
Cuiaba by air, to gather strength; he was then still convalescent. But 
when I went to call on his parents in January, at a time when I was 
revisiting all our troop, one by one, I found them full of reproaches: 
not for their son s sufferings, which they regarded as an everyday 
incident in sertao life, but for my barbaric action in exposing him, to the 
dangers of the skies a diabolical situation, in their view, and one to 
which they found it inconceivable that a Christian should be 

3 1 The Japim Bird Takes the Stage 

NEW family was made up as follows: first of 
all Taperahi, the chief of die village, and his four wives Maruabai, 
the eldest; Kunhatsin, her daughter by a previous union; Takwame; 
and lanopamoko, the young paralytic. This polygamous household was 
bringing up five children: Kamini and Pwereza, two boys who looked 
to be about seventeen and fifteen respectively, and three little girls: 
Paerai, Topekea, and Kupekahi. 

Potien, the chief s lieutenant, aged about twenty, was the son of an 
earlier marriage of Maruabai s. There was also an old woman, Wira- 
karu; her two adolescent sons, Takwari, and Karamua, of whom the 
first was unmarried and the second was married to his barely nubile 
niece; and, finally, their cousin, a young paralytic, Walera. 

Unlike the Nambikwara, the Tupi-Kawahib do not make a mystery 
of their names. And, as the sixteenth-century travellers noted, each 
name has a meaning. "As we do with dogs and other animals, Lery 
wrote, so do they deal out names from stock Sarigoy, for instance, 
for a four-legged animal; Arignan, a hen; Arabouten, the Brazil-tree; 
Pindo, a tall grass; and so on/ 

This was true of every case in which tie natives gave me an 
explanation of their names. Taperahi was a little bird with black and 
white feathers, and Kunhatsin a white or light-tinned woman; 
Takwame and Takwari were names derived from takwara, a species of 
bamboo; Potien was a freshwater shrimp; Wirakaru, a parasite that 
attached itself to human beings (in Portuguese, a bicho depe); Karamua, 
a plant; and Walera, another species of bamboo. 

Staden, another sixteenth-century traveller, said that the women 
usually take the names of birds, fish, or fruit*, and he added that 
whenever the husband killed a prisoner he and his wife took a new 
name. My companions did the same. Karamua, for instance, was also 
called Janaku because, said my informant, he has already killed a man*. 


350 The Tupi-Kawahib 

The natives also acquired new names as they passed from childhood 
to adolescence and from adolescence to manhood. Each had, therefore, 
two, three, or four names, all of which he would readily communicate 
to me. These names have a considerable interest, because the members 
of each lineage prefer to take names that stem from kindred roots. These 
names belong to the clan. Most of the inhabitants of my village 
belonged to the Mialat, or Wild-boar dan, but this dan had been 
formed by intermarriage with other dans, notably the Paranawat, or 
River clan, and the Takwatip, or Bamboo clan. But all the members of 
this last-named clan had names deriving from its eponym: Takwame, 
Takwarume, Takwari, "Walera (a big bamboo), Topehi (a fruit of the 
same family), and Karamua (also a plant, but an unidentified one). 

The most striking characteristic of our Indians social organization 
was the quad-monopoly enjoyed by the chief in respect of the women 
of the group. Of the six women who had got beyond puberty, four 
were his wives. Of the two others, one, Penhana, was his sister, and 
therefore forbidden; the other, Wirakaru, was an old woman who no 
longer interested anybody. It is dear, therefore, that Taperahi had 
attached to himself the maximum possible number of women. In his 
household it was Kunhatsin who took first place. She was also the 
youngest, with tike exception of lanopamoko the paralytic, and native 
opinion coincided with that of the anthropologist in finding her a great 
beauty. From the hierarchical point of view Maruabai was a secondary 
wife and her daughter took precedence over her. 

The principal wife seemed to hdp her husband more directly than 
the others, who were concerned with household chores, kitchen duties, 
and the care of the children, who were all brought up together, passing 
indifferently from one breast to another so much so, in fact, that I 
could never quite decide which children belonged to which mother. 
By contrast die principal wife accompanied her husband from place 
to place, helped him to receive visitors, took care of presents received, 
and kept the entire family under supervision. The situation is the 
opposite of that which I had observed among the Nambikwara, where 
it is the principal wife who stays at home and looks after the house, 
while the young concubines take a full share in the men s activities. 

The chiefs hold upon the women of the group seemed to derive 
primarily from the notion that his was no ordinary nature. His tempera 
ment was acknowledged to be quite exceptional. He was subject to 
trances, during which he had sometimes to be held in check, lest he 
should commit homicide (I shall later describe an instance of this). He 

Thejapim Bird Takes the Stage 351 

had the gift, among other things, of prophecy, and his sexual appetites 
were held to be so powerful that he needed to have many wives in 
order to satisfy them. During the two weeks in which I shared the life 
of their camp, I was often struck by the abnormal behaviour abnormal 
in relation to that of his companions of Taperahi, the chie He seemed 
to be afflicted with ambulatory mania: three times a day at least he 
would move his hammock and its protective awning of palm-leaves to 
another part of the camp, accompanied in each instance by his wives, 
Potien his lieutenant, and his babies. Every morning he disappeared 
into the forest with his wives and children to make love , said the 
natives. Half an hour or an hour kter they would troop back and move 
house again. 

The chief s privileged position, where polygamy is concerned, is to 
some extent counterbalanced by the loan of his wives to his com 
panions, and also to strangers. Potien is not merely his assistant: he also 
takes part in the chief s family life, eats at his table , nurses the babies 
from time to time, and enjoys other favours. As for the stranger from 
the world outside, every sixteenth-century author has much to say 
about the liberality with which he was received by die Tupinamba 
chiefs. This hospitable duty operated in favour of Abaitara, as soon as I 
arrived in the village, and he was lent lanopamoko. She was pregnant 
at the time, but until the day I left she shared Abaitara s hammock and 
was fed by him. 

From what Abaitara told me privately, this generosity was not 
disinterested. Taperahi was proposing to Abaitara that he should make 
over the girl to him once and for all in exchange for his little daughter, 
Topehi, who was then aged about eight: karijiraen taUko eta nipoka 
the chief wants to marry my daughter . Abaitara was not very 
enthusiastic, for lanopamofco, a cripple, could not be much of a 
companion to him. She can t even go and fetch water from the river, 
he said. It really was not a fair exchange: a grown-up, physically handi 
capped, against a healthy and very promising little girl. Abaitara had 
other ideas,, in any case: he would have liked to exchange Topehi for 
the two-year-old Kupekahi the point being, he said, that die was the 
daughter of Takwame who, like himself, was a member of the 
Takwatip dan. He could therefore exert over her the privilege of a 
uterine uncle. Takwame herself was to be made over, according to his 
plan, to another native from the post of Pimenta Bueno. Matrimonial 
equilibrium would be partly re-established thereby, in that Takwari 
was, for his part, engaged to the Htde Kupekahi. Once all these 

352 The Tupi-Kawahib 

transactions were completed, Taperahi would have lost two of his four 
wives, and gained a third one, in the person of Topehi. 

I do not know what was the outcome of these discussions. But 
dering the fifteen days of life in common, they led to great tension 
among those immediately concerned; at times the situation was really 
disquieting. Abaitara was absolutely set on having his two-year-old 
fiancee* far, although he was himself thirty to thirty-five already, he 
saw in her a wife after his own heart. He made her little presents, and 
when she played on the river s edge he never tired of admiring, and 
urging me to admire, her robust little body. How beautiful she would 
be in ten or twelve years time! Although he had already been for some 
years a widower, the long wait had no terrors for him. (Admittedly he 
had lanopamoko to be going on with, meanwhile.) The tender feelings 
which he cherished for the baby girl were mingled with innocent 
erotic daydreams of what was to happen in years to come, with a 
fatherly feeling of responsibility towards the little creature, and with the 
affectionate camaraderie of an elder brother who had belatedly acquired 
a baby sister. 

Another factor which helped to balance the unequal distribution of 
wives was the levirate, or inheritance of the wife by the brother. This 
was how Abaitara had come to marry the widow of his dead brother. 
He had not wanted to do it, but his father had insisted as had, indeed, 
the widow herself who, he said, couldn t keep her hands off me . The 
Tupi-Kawahib also practise fraternal polyandry, of which an example 
was provided by the little Penhana, a skinny creature, barely at the 
stage of puberty, who shared herself out between her husband 
Karamua and her brothers-in-law Takwari and Walera. Walera was a 
brother of the other two in terms of dbssrfication only: *He lends [his 
wife] to his brother*, for *the brother is not jealous of the brother*. 
Normally brothers- and sisters-in-law, without avoiding one another, 
take up an attitude of mutual reserve. "When the wife has been lent, the 
fact may be inferred from the familiarity with which she then treats 
her brother-in4aw. They talk and laugh together and her brother-in- 
law gives her her food. One day when Takwari had Arrowed 
Penhana he was lunching next to me. As he began his meal he asked his 
brother to get Penhana to come and eat*. Penhana was not hungry, 
because she had already lunched with her husband. But she came, 
accepted a mouthful, and wait away at once. In the same way, 
Abaitara left my own hearth and took his meal over to lanopamoko so 
that he could eat with her. 

Thejapim Bird Takes the Stage 353 

The Tupi-Kawahib combine, therefore, polygyny with polyandry 
in order to resolve the problems set by the chief s prerogatives* A bare 
week or two after taking leave of the Nambikwara, it was striking to 
note to what a degree groups geographically very near to one another 
can find different solutions for identical problems. For among the 
Nambikwara also, as we have seen, the chief has a polygamous privi 
lege, whence there results, once again, a disequilibrium between the 
number of young men and the number of available unattached wives. 
But instead of having recourse to polyandry, as the Tupi-Kawahib do, 
the Nambikwara allow their adolescents to practise homosexuality. The 
Tupi-Kawahib have strong words for such habits and are outwardly 
much against them. But, as Lery remarked maliciously of thek 
ancestors: From the fact that sometimes, in a quarrel, one will call the 
other Tyvire (the Tupi-Kawahib have almost the same word: tewk- 
uruwara), or bugjer, it could be conjectured, though I do not myself 
affirm anything of the kind, that this abominable crime is committed 
among them. 

Among the Tupi-Kawahib, the hierarchy of power was the object 
of a complex organization, to which our village remained attached in a 
symbolical way, much as in our own former monarchies some faithfid. 
subject is usually ready to act out the role of Lord High Chamberlain 
and so save the dignity of the former sovereign. This, it seemed, was 
Potien s role in relation to Taperahi. Such was his assiduity in serving 
his master, such the respect that he showed him, and such the ddference 
which he was shown, in return, by the other members of the group, 
that one might sometimes have thought that Taperahi held sway, as 
Abaitara had done in his time, over thousands of subjects or thanes. At 
that time there were at least four grades of rank at the court: chief, 
bodyguard, minor officers of state, and companions. The chief had the 
right of life or death over his people. As in the sixteenth century, 
execution was usually by drowning 2 duty accorded to the minor 
officers of state. But the chief also took care of his people, and had 
charge of negotiations with the outer world: these he conducted with 
considerable presence of mind, as I was to see for mysel 

I possessed a large aluminium basin, which we used for cooking 
rice. One morning Taperahi, accompanied by Abaitara as his inter 
preter, came and asked me for this basin, promising in exchange that 
for as long as we were with him he would keep it constantly topped 
up with cah&uin, for us to drink from as we pleased. I tried to explain 
that the basin was indispensable to our culinary arrangements; and I 

354 The Tupi-Kawahib 

was amazed to see that while Abaitara was translating my remarks 
Taperahi went on smiling all over his face, as if what Lhad to say was 
exactly what he had most wanted to hear. And, sure enough, when 
Abaitara completed his expose of the situation, Taperahi, still in the 
best of spirits, seized hold of the basin and put it without more ado 
among his own equipment. There was nothing for me to do but give 
in. Taperahi kept his promise, moreover, and for a week on end I was 
served with a cahouin At luxe, made up of a mixture of maize and tocari. 
This I disposed of in enormous quantities quantities limited only, 
indeed, by the necessity of not overtaxing the salivary glands of the 
three babies. The incident reminded me of a passage in Yves d Evreux: 
If any one among them wants something belonging to one of the 
others, he tells him so, quite openly: and, unless the thing asked for is 
very dear indeed to its owner, it will be handed over at once, with the 
condition, however, that if the one who asks has among his own pos 
sessions something that the giver would like to have, he will give, in 
his turn, all that he is asked for/ 

Tie Tupi-Kawahib s conception of the role of the chief differs 
radically from that current among the Nambikwara. When pressed for 
an elucidation, they will say: The chief is always happy/ And the best 
commegatary on that statement was the extraordinary dynamism which 
Taperahi did, in effect, display at all times. Individual aptitudes could 
not explain it altogether, since the chiefs of the Tupi-Kawahib, unlike 
those of the Nambikwara, inherit in the masculine line. Pwereza would 
succeed his father, but he looked younger than his brother Kamini, 
and I noticed other indications that the younger of the two might turn 
out to be the more important. In the past, one of the chief s duties 
was to organize feasts, of which he was said to be the master or the 
owner*. Men and women painted their bodies all over (notably with 
die violet juice of an unidentified leaf which was also used in the 
painting of pottery). There were dances, with singing and instrumental 
music. The accompaniment to these was provided by four or five large 
clarinets, made out of sections of bamboo about four feet in length, at 
die top of which was a little bamboo pipe with a simple reed, cut open 
at die side and held in place, in the interior of the pipe, with a fibre 
balL The master of the fete* ordered the men to see who best could 
carry a flute-flayer on his shoulders a competition which reminded 
me of mariddo-tifaxig among the Bororo and the races which the Ge 
ran among themselves, each bearing a log. 

Invitations were sent out in advance, so that the participants would 

Thejapim Bird Takes the Stage 355 

have time to collect and cure the little animals rats, monkeys, 
squirrels -that they would wear strung round their necks. The wheei- 
game divided the village into two camps: Elder and Younger. Hie 
teams would station themselves at the west end of a circular terrain 
while two lancers, one from each camp, would take up their positions 
at the north and south ends, respectively. Each group would then roll 
towards the other a wheel-like section of tree-trunk. As this passed 
in front of the lancers, they would try to shoot an arrow into it. Each 
hit entitled the archer in question to take one of his adversary s arrows. 
This game is strikingly similar to certain games found in North 

Next came target-practice, with a doll as the main target. This was 
not without its risks: any archer whose arrow stuck into the post on 
which the doll stood was destined for a bad end, magical in its origins 
as was also, for that matter, anyone who dared to sculpt a wooden 
doll in the likeness of a human being, instead of a straw doll or a 
wooden monkey. 

In this way, day after day, I would try to reconstruct from its last 
fragments a culture which had fascinated Europe, and one which, on 
the right bank of the upper Machado, might well disappear on the 
very day of my departure. For on November 7th, 1938, as I stepped 
aboard our galiot, then just back from Urupa, the natives headed fibr 
Pimenta Bueno to join forces with the companions, and with the 
family, of Abaitara. 

It was a melancholy affair, this liquidation of the surviving elements 
of a dying culture. And yet, towards the end of it, a surprise was in 
store for me. It was at nightfall, when everyone was faking advantage 
of the afterglow of the camp-fire to make ready for sleep. Taperahi, 
the chief, was already stretched out in his hammock. He began to sing, 
in a distant, hesitant tone which seemed hardly to belong to him. 
Immediately two men, Walera and Kamfnt, came and crouched at his 
feet, while a shiver of excitement ran throughout the Htde group. 
Walera called out once or twice: the chiefs singing became more 
exact in intonation, and his voice firmer. Suddenly I realized what was 
going on: Taperahi was acting a play, or more exactly a musical 
comedy, with a mingling of singing and speech. He was taking all the 
parts -a dozen or so and for each he lid a special tone of voice: 
piercing, high-pitched and squeaky, guttural, organ-like; and for each 
he had a recurrent musical theme: a veritable leit-motif, in feet. The 
tunes seemed astonishingly dose to Gregorian chant. After the Sacre du 

35 <5 The Tupi-Kawahib 

Prmtemps evoked by the NamHkwara flutes, I seemed to be listening to 
an exotic version of Les Noces. 

Abaitara was so fascinated by the performance that I had great 
difficulty in persuading him to tell me what was going on; but 
eventually I got enough out of him to piece together a vague idea of 
die subject. We were listening to a farce. The hero was tkejapim bird 
(an oriole, with black and yellow feathers and a song so modulated as 
to soood almost human); die other characters were animals tortoise, 
jaguar, falcon, ant-eater, tapir, lizard, and so on; utensils, like a stick, 
OF a pestle; and finally spirits, like the supernatural being, Maira. Each 
expressed himself in a style so* nicely adapted to its nature that I was 
soon able to identify them without prompting. The story hinged on the 
adventures oftkejapim which, at first menaced by the other animals, 
managed to outwit them in one way or another and in the end got the 
better of them all. Hie performance was held on two successive even 
ings and lasted some four hours on each occasion. There were moments 
when Taperahi seemed so carried away by inspiration that speech and 
song would pour forth from him, while shouts of laughter rang out on 
every side. At other times he seemed exhausted: his voice grew weak, 
and Aoegji he tried one theme after another he seemed not to pursue 
any to its conclusion. Tien one of the two chorus-men, or both in 
unison, would come to his rescue, either by railing out again and again, 
while the main actor took a short rest, or by suggesting to him some 
musical theme, or by taking one or other of the roles for the time 
being, so that a passage of dialogue, in our sense, would follow. And 
then, firmly back in the saddle, Taperahi would proceed with a new 

As tie night went on we could see that the effort of poetic creation 
was accompanied by loss of consciousness. The characters were going 
beyond die performer, as it were, and his different voices took on 
so strong an individuality that it seemed unbelievable that they all 
belonged to the same person. At the end of the second evening, 
Taperahi suddenly got out of his hammock, still singing the while, and 
began to meander round the camp, calling for cahouin. The spirits had 
taken control of him. All of a sudden he grabbed a knife and pounced 
upon Kunhtatsin, his principal wife, who had the greatest difficulty in 
getting away from him and escaping into the forest, while the other 
men held their chief down and forced him back into his hammock. 
Once there, he immediately fell asleep and in the morning all was 
back to normal. 

32 Amazonia 


HEN I got to Urupa, where it becomes possible 
to proceed by motor-boat, I found my companions installed in a 
spacious hut made of straw, raised upon stakes, and partitioned off into 
several little rooms. We had nothing to do but sell off the remains of 
our equipment to the local population, barter for chickens, -milk, or 
eggs for there were one or two cows about-4uxuriate in idleness and 
get back our strength until the river, then swollen by die rains, would 
allow die first motor-boat of the season to get upstream as far as 
Urupa. This would take three weeks. Each morning, as we mixed our 
reserves of chocolate into our milk, we would while away the break 
fast-hour by watching Vellard taking a bonensplinter or two out of 
Emydio s hand and putting that hand gradually back into its right 
shape. The sight was both disgusting and fascinating, and it merged in 
my mind with the look of the forest, with its multiplicity of threatening 
shapes. I took my own left hand as a model and began to draw whok 
landscapes made up of hands emerging from bodies as twisted and 
convoluted as liana. The dozen or so sketches which I made in this way 
disappeared during the occupation of Paris, and may for all I know be 
lying forgotten in some German attic; but it soothed me to make diein 
and before long I went back to the work of observation. 

From Urupa to Rio Madeira the telegraph stations are tied to the 
little hamlets where a group of rubber-tappers gives point to the 
sporadic population of the river-bank. These stations have not that 
element of absurdity which marks the stations on die plateau, and the 
life of those marooned there is less of a nightmare. Or, rather, the 
nightmare is less uniform. The resources of each particular area give it 
a character of its own. Kitchenrgardens are full of water-melons, 
whose melting flesh is the tropics* pinkish, half-warm substitute for 
snow; and imprisoned in the yard behind the house are edible land- 
tortoises which ensure that every family has the equivalent of a "Sunday 


358 The Tupi-Kawahib 

roast*. On special occasions the family may even enjoy a gallinha em 
molho pardo (chicken in brown sauce), followed hy a bolo podre (literally 
a rotten cake ), and a baba de mo fa ( maid s saliva*: a white cheese mixed 
with honey). The poisonous juice of manioc, fermented for weeks on 
end with peppers, provides a powerful, velvety sauce. A land of 
plenty: Apti so falta o que nao tern The only thing we don t have is 
what we haven t got. 

All these dishes are spoken of as colossally delicious, for the 
Amazonian loves his superlatives. Generally speaking a dessert, or a 
remedy, are good or bad as the devil himself*. Every waterfall is 
Vertiginous . Every piece of game is monstrously big . And every 
exchange of views is rich in peasant deformations. The inversion of 
phonemes, for instance: perdsa for precisa, prefeitamente for perfeita- 
mente, Tribudo for Tiburdo. It is likely also to be marked by long 
silences with only a solemn interjection or two to break into them: 
Sim, Senhor! 9 or Disparate! These relate to thoughts as dark and 
confused as the forest itself. 

Just occasionally commercial travellers, regatao or mascate most of 
them Syrians or Lebanese who travel by canoe arrive after a journey 
of several weeks, bringing with them medicines and ancient news- 
papery the one as subject as the other to deterioration from damp. Thus 
it was that, in a rubber-tapper s hut, I came upon an old newspaper and 
learnt, four months kte, that the Munich agreement had been followed 
by general mobilization in France. The forest people have a richer im 
aginative life than their counterparts on the savannah. There are poets 
among them: in one family, for instance, the father and mother, who 
wore called respectively Sandoval and Maria, made up all their child 
ren s names from the six syllables comprised in their own. Thus their 
daughters were Valma, Valmaria, and Valmarisa, and their sons 
Sandomar and Marival. The grandsons were Valdomar and Valkimar. 
Certain pedants christen their sons Aristotle and Newton and delight 
in die medicines, popular throughout Amazonia, which are called 
Precious Dye, Oriental Tonic, Gordona Specific, Bristol Pills, English 
Water, and Heavenly Balm. Unless they take (with fatal results) 
bichlorhydrate of quinine instead of sulphate of soda, they become so 
used to their drugs that to quieten a toothache they need to take a 
whole tube of aspirin at one swallow. In feet I noticed on die lower 
reaches of the Machado a litde warehouse which seemed, in symbolical 
style, to send two kinds of goods, and two only, upstream: cemetery 
railings and enemas. 

Amazonia 359 

Side by side with these scientific* remedies there exists a corpus of 
popular specifics. These consist of resguardos, prohibitions, and orafSes, 
prayers. A pregnant woman, for instance, can eat whatever she likes. 
After she has given birth, and for the eight days following, she can eat 
the flesh of chicken and partridge. Up till the fortieth day after the 
birth, she can also eat deer-meat and certain fish (paat, piava, sardinka). 
From the forty-first day onwards she can resume sexual relations and 
add to her diet wild boar and white fish. For a year, however, she may 
not touch tapir, tortoise, red deer, mutum, or the so-called leather* fish: 
jetaurama and curimata. And this is what our informants had to say on 
the subject: Isso e mandamento da lei de Deu, isso e do inido do mundo, a 

mulher so e purificada depois de cuarenta dias. Si nao faz, o Jim o triste , 

Depots do tempo da menstruafao, a mulher jica immunda, o hotnem que anda 
com ellefica immundo tambem, e a lei de Deu para mulher* And, as a last 
explanation: *E uma cousa muitajina, a mulher J Or, in other words: As 
it is laid down by the law of God, which goes back to the beginning of 
the world, the woman is made pure only after forty days. After men 
struation the woman is unclean, and the man who goes with her 
becomes unclean also. It s a very delicate thing, the woman/ 

And now, on the margins of black magic, here is the Ora(ao do sapo 
secco, the Prayer of the Dried Toad, as it appears in a book hawked 
from hut to hut, the Livro de Sao Cypriano. Take a big toad, a cuntru 
or a sapo leiteiro y bury him up to its nock, on a Friday, and feed him with 
the embers of a fire. He will swallow them all. Eight days later, go and 
look for birn: he ll have disappeared. But at the spot where he had been 
left there will be the beginnings of a three-branched and three-coloured 
tree. The white branch stands for love, the red for despair, the Hack 
for mourning. The name of the prayer derives from the fact that a 
dead toad dries up to such a degree that even the carrion-birds will not 
touch it. So the person concerned takes the branch that most corres 
ponds to his purpose and keeps it hidden from everyone else: e amsa 
muita occulta. The prayer is declaimed at the time of the toad s burial: 

Eu te enterro com palma de chao la dentro 

Eu te prende baixo de meus pes ate como for o possivel 

Tern que me livras de tudo quanto e perigo 

So soltarei voce quando terminar mmha missao 

Abaixo de Sao Arnaro sera o meu protetor 

As undas do mar serao meu livramento 

Na polvora do sol sera meu descanso 

Anjos da minha guarda sempre me accompanham 

360 The Tupi-Kawahib 

E o Satanez nao tera forsa me prender 

Na hora chegada no pinga dc meio dia 

Esta Ora^ao sera ouvida 

Sao Amaro voce e supremes senhores dos animaes crueis 

Sera o meu protetor Mariterra (?) 


I bury you one foot deep in the earth 

I take you beneath my feet in so far as I can 

You are to deliver me from all that is danger 

I shall not release you till I have completed my mission 

My protector will be under the invocation of St Amaro 

The waves of the sea shall be my deliverance 

In the dust of the earth shall be my rest 

Accompany me always, my guardian angels, 

And Satan will not be strong enough to seize hold of me 

"When it is noon exactly this prayer will be heard 

St Amaro, you and the supreme lords of cruel animals 

shall be my protector Mariterra (?) 


Hie people also resort to the Orafao dafava* the Prayer of tke Bean, 
and the Orayw do morcego, the Prayer of the Bat. 

Fanatics and inventors are to be found in these parts, where the 
rivers can be navigated by small motor-boats and civilization, as 
represented by Manaus, is no longer a three-jparts-obliterated memory, 
but rather a reality to be experienced twice or even thrice in a lifetime, 
For instance, one head of a station on the telegraph line used to lay out, 
for himself, his wife, and his two children, plantations of enormous size 
in the very middle of the forest. He also manufactured gramophones, 
and eau-de-vie by the gallon. Fate was against him, however: every 
night his horse was attacked by the so-called vampire-bats. When he 
fitted out die horse with armour made of tent-canvas, the horse would 
tear it to pieces on a branch. So he tried smearing the horse with 
pepper-juice, and then with copper sulphate, but the bats wiped it all 
away with their wings* and went on sucking the poor animal s blood. 
The only effective method was to disguise the horse as a wild boar with 
four skins, cut out and sewn together. His ever-fertile imagination 
helped him to forget a great disappointment: the visit to Manaus, 
where all his savings vanished into the hands of the doctors who 
overcharged him, the hotel where he was starved, and his children, 

Amazonia 361 

who were encouraged by the shopkeepers to ransack every one of their 

I should like to say more of the ways in which these pitiable figures 
from Amazonian life feed upon their own eccentricity and their own 
despair. Among them are heroes or saints like Rondon and his 
companions, who scattered across the unexplored parts of the map 
names taken from the positivist calendar: some of them allowed 
themselves to be massacred rather than open fire in reply to the Indians* 
attacks. There were daredevils, too, who plunged deep into the forest 
to keep strange rendezvous with tribes known to them alone: some 
times they would loot the natives* humble harvest until an arrow put 
an end to them. There were dreamers who built an ephemeral empire 
in some unvisited valley. Maniacs who squandered in solitude the kind 
of activity which leads others to a vice-regal throne. Victims, finally, 
of the intoxication which swept away people more powerful than 
themselves; of the bizarre fate of such people the adventurers to be 
found on the Rio Machado, on the edge of the forests inhabited by the 
Munde and the Tupi-Kawahib, are a living illustration. 

One day I cut out of a newspaper a story which, though awkwardly 
told, is not without a certain grandeur. Here it is: 

Extract from A Pew Evmgelka (1938): 

In 1920 the price of rubber fell and the big chief (Colonel 
Raymundo Pereira Brasil) abandoned the seringaes on the edge of 
the Igarape Sao Thome, so that they remained more or less virgin. 
Time passed. Ever since I left the Colonel s territories, my 
adolescent soul had preserved an indelible memory of those fertile 
forests. I roused myself from the apathy into which I had been 
thrown by the sudden fell in the price of rubber and, already well 
trained in, and used to, the Bertholletia Excdsa, I suddenly 
remembered the castanhaes which I used to see at S Thome. 

At the Grand Hotel in Belem-do-Para, I met one day my former 
chief, Colonel Brasil. He still had signs of his former great wealth. 
I asked him for permission to go and work his chestnut forests. 
He was kind enough to accord me this permission. He spoke to me, 
saying: All that has been abandoned. It is a long way off, and the 
only people still there are those who never managed to get away. I 
don t know how they live, and I don t care. You can go there if 
you want to. 

I got a few slender resources together, asked for credit from 

362 The Tupi-Kawahib 

Messis J. Adonias, Addino G. Bastos, and Geneves Pereira & Co., 
took a ticket on one of the Amazon River steam-boats, and headed 
for Tapajoz, At Itaituba we joined forces: Rufino Monte Palma, 
Mdeatino Tdles de Mendonga, and myself. Each of us had fifty 
men. We banded together, and we won through. Soon we reached 
the mouth of the Igarape Sao Thome. There we found an entire 
population foundering in abandonment and despair: old men fit 
for nothing, women more or less naked, children stunted and 
fearful When shelters had been built and everything was ready I 
assembled all my men and their families and said to them: Here is 
everyone s beta cartridges, salt, flour. In my hut there is neither 
dock nor calendar. Work will begin when we can see the outlines 
of our calloused hands, and the hour of rest will come with the night 
that God has given us. Those who do not accept this will be given 
nothing to eat. They will have to be content with palm-nut pap 
and salt made from the buds of die big-headed anaja (the buds of 
this palmr-tree yield, after boiling, a bitter and salty residue). We 
have provisions for sixty days, and we must make the most of them. 
Not one hour of this precious time can be lost. My associates 
followed my example and sixty days later we had 1420 barrels (a 
barrel held about 130 litres) of chestnuts. We loaded our boats 
and travelled, with the men we had recruited, to Itaituba. I stayed 
on with Rufino Monte Palma and the rest of our troop to take the 
motorboat Santelmo, which kept us waiting a good fifteen days. 
When we got to the port of Pimental we embarked, complete 
with chestnuts and everything, on the gaiola Serttmejo, and at Belem 
we sold our chestnuts for 47 milreis 500 ($2.30) the hectolitre. 
Unluckily four men died on tie journey. We never went back 
there. But today, with prices as high as 220 milreis the hectolitre 
higher than ever before, according to documents in my possession 
this chestnut-work has solid and positive advantages, unlike the 
underground diamond, where so much is for ever unknown. And 
that, my friends in Cuiaba, is how people get Para chestnuts in the 
State of Mato-Grosso. 

At least the narrator and his friends earned for their one hundred and 
fifty or one hundred and seventy men a total, in sixty days, of some 
thing like three thousand five hundred dollars. But what are we to say 
of the rubber-tappers whose last agonies I was able to witness during 
the final weeks of my stay? 

33 Seringal 


IHE principal species of the latex-tree, the kevea 
and the castilloa, are called in local parlance respectively seringa and 
caucha. The first is the more important of the two: it grows only near 
river-banks, where the marge itself constitutes an imperfectly defined 
zone, made over by a vague form of governmental authorization not 
to landowners but to patrons, as they called: these patties de seringal 
are tenants of food-and-mixed-provision shops. If not, as occasionally 
happens, e in business on their own , they hold a concession from an 
entrepreneur or from the little river-transport company which has the 
monopoly of navigation on the mainstream of the river and on its 
tributaries. The rubber-seeker is designated in the first place as a "client* 
and is called zfreguez Le. a client of the shop in the zone where he 
carries on his activities: he binds himself to make at that particular shop 
all his purchases, including the aviagao (which has nothing to do with 
aviation), and also to sell it his entire harvest In return he gets his 
working tools and a season s provision of victuals. These are debited to 
his account. He also gets the concession of an area called the collocayw: 
this consists of a series of paths, each of which leads from the hot on the 
river-bank to the principal rubber-producing trees in the forest nearby. 
These trees will have been picked out in advance by others of dhe 
patrons employees: the matteiro and the ajudante* 

Early each morning (for it is believed to be a good thing to set to 
work in the dark) the seringueiro will set off along one of his paths, 
armed with \usfaca (a curved knife) and his cormga (a lamp that he 
wears attached to his hat, like a miner). When he makes his incisions in 
the seringas, a considerable delicacy is required: both the types of cut 
in question (the flag and the fishbone are their names) need to be 
employed correctly if the tree is neither to remain dry nor to exhaust 
its supplies prematurely. 

By ten in the morning, between one hundred and fifty and one 


364 The Tupi-Kawahib 

hundred and eighty trees will have been cut. After breakfasting, 
the seringueiro goes back along the same path and collects the latex, 
which will have been flowing since early morning into small zinc 
cups attached to the trunk. The contents of these are then poured 
into a bag, which he makes for himself, of coarse cotton material 
impregnated with rubber. When he gets back to his hut towards 
five in the evening, the next phase begins: the fattening , that 
is to say, of the ball-shaped piece of rubber that is in process of 
formation. The milk is slowly incorporated into the ball, which has 
been skewered horizontally on a stick of wood and hung over a fire. 
The smoke coagulates it, in one thin layer after another, and these are 
evened out by turning the ball slowly on its axis. The ball is considered 
to be finished when it reaches the standard weight: that weight varies, 
according to the region concerned, between sixty and a hundred and 
forty pounds. When the trees are becoming exhausted it may take 
several weeks to complete a ball. These balls are of many kinds, 
dependent on the quality of the ktex and die method of their con 
struction. Wlien ready, they are taken along the river-bank, where the 
patron comes once a year to collect them. He thai takes them to his own 
warehouse and has them flattened down into pelks de borracha, or 
rubber skins*; these he strings together to form rafts which are then 
launched downstream. At each successive set of rapids the rafts come to 
pieces, and have to be patiently put together again until at last they get 
to Manaus or Belem. 

And so (I am here simplifying what is often a complicated situation) 
the seringueiro is subject to the patron , and the patron* in his turn, to the 
navigation company which controls the main rivers. This system results 
from the collapse in the price of rubber which dates from the year 
1910, when rubber from plantations in Asia began to compete with 
Brazilian rubber. Only a man who was really in need would now work 
at the extraction of rubber, but the transportation of that rubber 
downriver remained lucrative all the more so as goods fetch about 
four times the price, on the seringal, that is paid for them initially. Those 
who were in a position to do so gave up the direct handling of rubber 
and concentrated on its transport. In this way they had all the 
advantages of the system and ran none of its risks; the patrao was 
doubly at the mercy of the transporter, in that the latter could either 
raise his tariffs at will or refuse to victual his client. A patron whose shop 
is empty will lose his clients: either they get away without paying their 
debts or they die of hunger where they are. 

Seringal 365 

The patron is in the hands of the transporter, therefore, and the 
client in those of the patron. In 1938 rubber sold at two per cent of the 
price it commanded at the climax of the great boom. And althotigh 
things improved for a time during the Second World War they are not 
much better today. A collector working on the banks of the Machado 
can count on getting between two hundred and one thousand two 
hundred kilos of rubber a year, according to the fluctuations of the 
season. At the very best, in 1938, this would enable him to buy half the 
goods he really needed: rice, black beans, dried meat, salt, ammunition, 
paraffin, and cotton doth. He could not have kept going at all without: 
these things. The difference was made up either by hunting or by 
running into ever greater debt: a collector s debts began when he first 
set up house* and very often they went on increasing rill the day 
he died. 

It may be worth while to set down here the monthly budget of a 
family of four people, as it was in ,193 8. Fluctuations in the price of rice 
make it possible for anyone who wishes to do so to work out the 
equivalent figures in gold: 

Unit-price in mikeis global price 

Two kilos of cooking fat . . . 10-500 42-000 

Five kilos of sugar .... 4*500 22-500 

Three kilos of coffee . . . . 5-000 15-000 

One litre of paraffin .... 5*000 5-000 

Four bars of soap .... 3-000 12*000 

Three kilos of salt (for salting game) . 3-000 9*000 

Twenty bullets, caL -44 . . . 1-200 24-000 

Four pounds of tobacco . . . 8-000 34-000 

Five packets of cigarette-paper . . 1-200 6*000 

Ten boxes of matches . ... 0-500 5-000 

Two knobs of garlic .... 1-500 3-000 

A hundred grammes of pepper (for curing) 3-000 3-000 

Four cans of condensed milk . . 5*000 20-000 

Five kilos of rice .... 3*500 17*500 

Thirty litres of manioc flour* . . 2-500 75-000 

Six kilos of xarque (dried meat) . . 8-000 48-000 

Total 65.400 341.000 

To the annual budget there must also be added cotton doth, of 
which in 1938 a length was worth from thirty to one hundred and 

366 The Tupi-Kawahib 

twenty mikeis: shoes at from forty to sixty a pair; a hat, at from fifty 
to sixty; and needles, buttons, thread, and medicines, which last they 
consumed in flabbergasting quantity. For instance one tablet of 
quinine (and each member of each family would use a whole tube a 
day) or of aspirin would cost one milreis. And we must remember at 
this point that a really good season on the Machado (harvest-time for 
rubber is from April to September, since the forest cannot be walked 
in during the rainy season) a really good season would bring in 
two thousand four hundred mikeis. (Afina fetched in Manaus, in 1936, 
around four mikeis the kilo, of which the producer received half.) Even 
if the seringudro has no young children, eats nothing but what he gets 
for himself out hunting and the manioc flour which he grows and 
manufactures himself, over and above the rest of his work his bills for 
a bare minimum of food will more than cover his income from even 
an exceptionally good season. 

Whether he is or is not in business on his own, the patron lives in 
terror of bankruptcy. And bankruptcy is never far away if his clients 
disappear without having repaid his advances. So he employs an armed 
foreman to keep watch on the river. A few days after I left the Tupi- 
Kawahib I had a strange encounter on the river, which remained with 
me as the very image of life on the seringal. This is what I wrote in my 
diary on December 3rd, 1938: 

Towards ten o clock the weather was grey and soggy. Suddenly 
we met a little montaria, drawn by a thin man, with his wife, a fat 
mulatto woman with crinkly hair, and a child of about ten. They 
were exhausted and the woman finished every sentence in tears. 
They were on their way back from an expedition on the Macha- 
cHnho eleven cachoeiras (falls), and one of them Jaburu with a 
varagao por terra, where they had to take everything out of the boat 
and carry it overland. They had been looking for one of their 
Jreguezes who had run away with his girt-friend, taking with them 
a boat and all his belongings, after stocking up with aviafao and 
leaving a note to say that a mercadoria e muito cara e nao tern coragem 
pagar a conta (everything was too dear and he hadn t the courage 
to pay his bill). The people we met were employees of the Com- 
padre Gaetano. Appalled at their responsibility, they had gone 
after the fugitive, meaning to capture him and bring him back to 
their patron. They had a rifle with them. 

Seringal 367 

The rifle, as they called it, was a carbine,, . usually a Westminster, 
calibre .44, which served for hunting and, if need be, for other pur 
poses also. 

A few weeks kter I noted down the wording of this poster, at the 
door of the Calama Limitada shop which stood at the confluence of 
the Machado and the Madeira: 


comprising fat, butter and milk 

will be sold on credit only 

on the orders of the patron. 

Where no such order has been given 

they will be sold only in return for 

immediate payment in money 
or in exchange for some equivalent article. 

Immediately beneath this was another poster: 


Even if you are a person of colour! 
However wavy or crinkly your hair may be 

it will become smooth and glossy if you 
make regular use of the newest preparation 


On sale at The Big Bottle* 
rue Uruguayana, Manaus. 

So used are the seringueiros to sickness and poverty that their life is 
not always as grim as it sounds. Doubtless the time is far distant when 
the high price of rubber allowed them to build saloons made from 
wooden planks at points whore two rivers met. These turned into 
rowdy gambling-hells whence the seringotiws, having lost in a night 
the fortunes that they had taken years to build up, would set off in the 
morning to get their aviagao on credit from a sympathetic patron and 
begin the whole process all over again. I saw the ruins of one such 
saloon, the Vatican as it was called: even the name spoke for its 
vanished splendours. On Sunday the rubber-tappers would arrive there 

3<S8 The Tupi-Kawahib 

in pyjamas of striped silk, soft hat, and varnished shoes, and listen to 
virtuosi who played tunes by firing off revolvers of varying sounds 
and calibres. Silk pyjamas are no longer to be got in the seringaL But life 
there is still given an equivocal charm by the young women who lead 
a precarious existence as concubines of the seringueiros. This con 
cubinage is known as casar na igreja verde getting married in the green 
church*. Sometimes the mulherada, or womenfolk , will band together 
and organize a dance. Each will give five milreis, or some coffee, or 
some sugar, or the loan of a hut rather larger than the others, with a 
lantern well filled for the night. They arrive in flimsy dresses, made-up, 
and with their hair specially dressed, with a kiss of the hand on arrival 
for the host and hostess. They use make-up to give themselves the 
illusion not so much of beauty as of health. Rouge and powder conceal 
the effects of smallpox, tuberculosis, and malaria. For the rest of the 
year each lives, unkempt and in rags, with her man in his barrafao: for 
this one night they arrive, vivid and well got-up, in high-heeled shoes. 
Even so, they have had to walk a mile or more along muddy forest 
paths in their ball-dresses. And before dressing they have washed in 
squalid rivulets and dressed by night: it will have rained all day. There 
is a terrifying contrast between these fragile attempts at civilization and 
the monstrous reality which waits for them at the door. 

The bodies shown off by their badly cut dresses are character 
istically Indian, with the very high breasts lodged almost under the 
armpits and squeezed tight by the material that has to hold in place the 
protruding belly. The arms are small, the legs thin and prettily made; 
hands, wrists, ankles, and feet are all very delicate. The men, in white 
linen trousers, heavy shoes, and pyjama-tops, will ask their partners for 
a dance. (As I have already said, these women are not married. They 
are companheiras sometimes amaziada$ 9 or fixed up*, sometimes 
desoccupadas, free, available .) Each leads the lady of his choice to the 
middle of the pl&nqaue of babassu straw, where the scene is lit by a 
murmurous paraffin-lamp, otpharoL For a few moments they wait for 
the downbeat, which will be given by the caracacha, a box of nails 
shaken by a dancer not, for the moment, on the floor; and then off 
they go: one, two-three, one, two-three, and so on, with their feet 
dragging noisily on a plank floor mounted on stakes. 

The dances are those of an earlier day. Above all, the desfeitera, 
made up of endless repetitions, between which the music of the 
accordion (to the accompaniment at times of the violfio and the 
cavaquinho) stops to allow all the dancers to improvise, each in turn, a 

Seringa! 369 

distich charged with overtones of passion, or teasing. To these the ladies 
must, in turn, reply in similar style. This is not easy for them, for they 
feel shy, com vergonha: some run away and hide their blushes, others ratde 
off an unintelligible couplet, like schoolgirls who have learnt some 
thing by heart. Here is the distich which was improvised about 
ourselves, one evening at Urupa: 

Um e medico, outro professor, outro fiscal do Museu, 
Escolhe entr es tres qual e o seu. 

(One is a doctor, the other a professor, the other an Inspector from tie 
Museum: choose which of the three shall be yours.) 

Luckily the poor girl to whom this was addressed had no idea what 
to say in reply. 

When the ball goes on for several days, as it sometimes does, the 
women put on a fresh dress each evening. 

If the Nambikwara had taken me back to the stone age, and the 
Tupi-Kawahib to the sixteenth century, I now felt myself by contrast, 
in the eighteenth century, such as it might have been in some small 
Caribbean harbour or along the coast of the mainland. I had crossed a 
whole continent. But the now-imminent end of my travels was first 
made manifest in this return-journey from the depths of time. 



The Return 

34 The Apotheosis of Augustus 


NE stage in the journey had been particularly 
discouraging: Campos Novos. Separated from my companions by the 
epidemic which was immobilizing them some fifty-odd miles farther 
back, I could do nothing but wait on the far edge of the station whore 
a handful of people were dying of malaria, hookworm disease, and, 
above all, hunger. The Paressi woman whom I had engaged to do my 
washing insisted that she be given not merely soap, but a meal, before 
she would get down to work; without it, she explained, she would be 
too weak to do anything. And she was right: these people had lost all 
aptitude for life. Too weak and too ill to struggle, they aimed merely 
to do less and need less; what they sought was that state of torpor 
which would demand from them a minimum of physical effort and at 
the same time make them less conscious of their wretchedness. 

The Indians contributed in quite another way to this dismal state of 
affairs. I was by no means popular with either of the two bands which 
had met up at Campos Novos and were constantly on the point of 
leaping at each other s throats. I had to be continually on the watch, and 
it was practically impossible to carry on with my work. Rekt-work is 
taxing enough even in normal conditions: the anthropologist must get 
up at first light and remain alert until the last of the natives has gone 
to sleep (even then he sometimes has to watch over their slumber). He 
must try to pass unnoticed, and yet always be at hand. He must see 
everything, remember everything, take note of everything. He must 
be ready to make the most of a humiliating indiscretion, to go to some 
snotty-nosed urchin and beg for information, and keep himself ever 
in readiness to profit by a moment of complaisance or free-and-easiness. 
Or, it may well be, for days together a fit of ill humour among the 
natives will compel him to shut down on his curiosity and simulate 
a sombre reserve. The investigator eats his heart out in the exercise of 


374 The Return 

his profession: he has abandoned, after ail, his environment, his friends, 
and his habits, spent a considerable amount of money and time, and 
compromised his health. And the only apparent result is that his 
presence is forgiven by a handful of wretched people who will soon, 
in any case, be extinct; whose main occupations are sleeping and 
picking their lice; and whose whim can decide the success or the failure 
of his whole enterprise. When the natives are frankly hostile, as they 
were at Campos Novos, the situation deteriorates: the Indians, un 
willing even to be looked at, will disappear without warning for 
days on end, hunting or collecting. The investigator still hopes to 
resume the neighbourly relations for which he has paid so dearly, and 
so he hangs about endlessly, marks time, turns aimlessly round and 
round, rereading his old notes, making a fair copy of them, attempting 
an interpretation*. Or else he sets himself some pointless and minutely 
detailed task, a caricature of his professional activity; measuring, for 
instance, the distance between one fire-ate and the next, or count 
ing, one by one, the branches which make up the now-deserted 

It is a time, above all, of self-interrogation. Why did he come to 
such a place? With what hopes? And to what end? What {5, in point of 
feet, an anthropological investigation? Is it the exercise of a profession 
like any other, differentiated only by the fact that home and office- 
kboratory are several thousand miles apart? Or does it follow upon 
some more radical decision one that calls in question the system 
within which one was born and has come to manhood? In my case I 
had been almost five years away from France. I had given up my 
academic career. The more astute among my classmates were climbing 
their ladders, rung after rung. Those whose leanings were towards 
politics, as my own had once been, were already Members of Parlia 
ment and would soon be Ministers, whereas I was roaming the desert, 
hunting down the outcasts of humanity. Who or what had provoked 
me to blow sky-high the normal progressions of my life? Was it all 
a ruse, a welt-judged detour which would allow me eventually to 
resume my career with certain extra advantages of which due note 
would be taken? Or did my decision bespeak a profound incapacity to 
live on good terms with my own social group? Was I destined, in fact, 
to live in ever greater isolation from my fellows? The strange paradox 
was that, so far from making me free of a new world*, my life of 
adventure tended rather to thrust me back into my old one, while the 
world to which I had laid claim slipped through my fingers. No 

The Apotheosis of Augustus 375 

sooner had I mastered the men and the landscapes which I had travelled 
so far to see than they lost the meaning which I had hoped to find in 
them; and in the place of these disappointing, though immediately 
present, images I found myself haunted by others which had remained 
in reserve from my past. Never, when they were a part of the reality 
around me, had I set any value upon them. But when I was travelling 
in areas which few had set eyes upon, and sharing the existence of 
peoples whose wretchedness was the price paid by them, of course 
of my investigation into the distant past, I found that neither people nor 
landscape stood in the foreground of my mind. This was occupied, 
rather, by fugitive visions of the French countryside from which I had 
cut myself off, or fragments of music and poetry which were the 
perfectly conventional expression of a civilization against which I had 
taken my stand: such, at any rate, was how I must interpret my actions, 
if my life were to retain any sense of purpose. For weeks on end, on 
that plateau of the western Mato Grosso, I was obsessed not by my 
surroundings, which I should never see again, but by a hackneyed tune 
that my memory deformed still further: the third of Chopin s Etudes, 
op. 10, which seemed to me and I well knew how bitter was the irony 
of it to summarize all that I had left behind me. 

Why Chopin, to whom I had never been especially drawn? 
Brought up to admire Wagner above all things, I had only lately 
discovered Debussy even after I had been persuaded by the 
second or third performance of Les Noces that the world of 
Stravinsky was more real and more valid than die savannah of central 
Brazil: had swept away, in feet, my previous notion of music. Bet at 
the moment when I left France it was Pelleas that gave me die spiritual 
nourishment which I needed; so why was it diat Chopin, and the most 
banal of his works, should have had such a hold upon me in die desert? 
More concerned with this problem than with the observations which 
would have given point to my existence, I told myself that the progress 
implicit in passing from Chopin to Debussy might well be amplified 
when the passage was made in the opposite direction. I ^as now 
experiencing in Chopin the marvels which had made me prefer 
Debussy: in Chopin they were implicit merely, and uncertain, and so 
discreet that I, not at first discerning them, had hurried rather towards 
the music in which they were plainly manifest. I was advancing on 
both fronts: deeper knowledge of the older composer had led me to 
recogoize beauties destined to remain hidden from those who had not 
first come to know Debussy, Some people love Chopin because they 

376 The Return 

know nothing of tie subsequent evolution of music; but where they 
love by default, I loved by excess. There was also the fact that, when I 
wished to encourage the apparition of certain emotions within myself, 
I no longer needed an explicit stimulus; a hint, an allusion, a 
premonition of certain forms, and I was well away. 

For mile after mile the same melodic phrase rose up in my memory. 
I simply couldn t get free of it. Each time it had a new fascination for 
me. Initially imprecise in outline, it seemed to become more and more 
intricately woven, as if to conceal from the listener how eventually it 
would end. This weaving and re-weaving became so complicated that 
one wondered how it could possibly be unravelled; and then suddenly 
one note would resolve the whole problem, and the solution would 
seem yet more audacious than the procedures which had preceded, 
called for, and made possible its arrival; when it was heard, all that had 
gone before took on a new meaning, and the quest, which had seemed 
arbitrary, was se^n to have prepared the way for this undreamed-of 
solution. Was that what travel meant? An exploration of the deserts of 
memory, rather than of those around me? One afternoon, when the 
overwhelming heat sent a hush of sleep over the encampment, I was 
squatting in my hammock, protected from the pests , as they are called 
over there, by the mosquito-net whose narrow weave made it even 
more difficult to breathe. Suddenly I realized that the problems which 
tormented me would make a good subject for a play. I imagined it as 
clearly as if it had already been written. The Indians had disappeared; 
for six days I wrote from morning till night on the backs of sheets 
covered with lists of words, and sketches, and genealogies. After which 
my inspiration left me in the very middle of my work. It has never 
returned, and when I reread what I had scribbled down I don t think 
it was much to be sorry about. 

My play was called The Apotheosis of Augustus and was, in effect, 
a new version of Corneille s Cinna. In it I put on the stage two men 
who had been friends in childhood and re-met at a moment of crisis in 
both their very different careers. The one had opted, as he thought, 
against civilization, only to find that he was heading back towards it 
by a very complicated route and had destroyed, in so doing, the sense 
and the value of the alternative which he had supposed to be his 
concern. The other had been marked out from birth for the world and 
its honours, only to find that all his efforts had tended towards the 
abolition of that world and those honours. Each sought, therefore, to 

The Apotheosis of Augustus 377 

destroy the other, and in so doing to save, even at the price of his own 
death, the significance of what had gone before. 

The action began at the moment when the Senate, wishing to confer 
on Augustus a rank higher even than that of Emperor, voted for his 
apotheosis and made ready to admit him, in his own lifetime, to the 
ranks of the gods. In the palace gardens two guards talV over the day s 
news and try to foresee how it will affect them. Surely the policeman 
will become a thing of the past? How could they protect a god whose 
privilege it is to turn himself into an insect, or even to become invisible 
and paralyse whomever he pleases? They ought to strike, perhaps; in 
any case they deserve a rise in pay. 

The chief of police appears and explains their mistake. The mission 
of the police does not mark them off from those whom they serve. Ends 
are not their concern: the police force is indistinguishable from the 
person and the interests of its master; they shine with his glory. When 
the Head of the State becomes a god, his police have a share in die 
godhead. For them, as for him, all things become possible. The force 
fulfils its true nature and could take as its device the motto of the 
private detective agencies: itself unseen, it sees and hears all. 

The stage then fills with people who have come from the meeting 
of the Senate and have much to say of what has gone on there. Many 
and various are the interpretations of Augustus* passage from manhood 
to divinity. Those with great interests in their charge see in it new 
ways of making money, while Augustus, Emperor to his fingers* ends, 
thinks only of the confirmation of his own power and, as a conse 
quence, of his new immunity from plotting and intrigue. His wife 
Livia sees the apotheosis as the natural summit of his career: No one 
could have deserved it more the Academic Pran^aise, in fact. . . . 
Camille, Augustus young sister, is in love with Cinna, and she brings 
Augustus the news that Cinna is bade in Rome after ten years* adven 
turous absence. She hopes that Augustus will receive Cinna and that 
Cinna, capricious and poetical as ever, will perhaps dissuade the 
Emperor from going over irrevocably to the Establishment. livk 
dislikes the idea: Cinna the madcap, only been happy among savages, 
has always brought an element of disorder into Augustus* career. 
Augustus is tempted to take her part, but successive delegations of 
priests, painters, and poets begin to make him hesitate. All conceive the 
divinity of Augustus as an essentially other-worldly measure. The 
priests, for instance, take it for granted that the temporal power will 
pass into their hands, since they are the authorized mediators between 

378 The Return 

gods and men. The artists want Augustus to be seen henceforward as 
an idea, rather than as a person, thereby outraging the Imperial couple; 
instead of what they had in mind marble statues, larger than life and 
substantially more beautiful Augustus and Livia find themselves 
being presented, in the likeness of whirlwinds or polyhedra. And the 
con&sion grows all the greater when a troupe of light women Leda, 
Europa, Alkrnene, and Diana offer to share with the Emperor their 
experience of commerce with divinity. 

Augustus, left alone on die stage, finds himself faced with an eagle: 
not the conventional eagle, divinity *s attribute, but a wild creature, 
evil-smelling and lukewarm to the touch. It is, none the less, Jupiter s 
eagle; the same who carried off Ganymede after a bloody combat in 
which the boy struggled in vain. Augustus can hardly believe his ears 
when the bird explains to him that his divinity will consist simply in 
immunity to the feeling of repulsion which overcomes him, as a man, 
when the eagle draws near. He will know that he is a god not because 
of any sensation of inner radiance or any capacity to work miracles, 
bat because lie will endure without disgust the nearness of a wild 
creature which will smell disgustingly and cover him with its drop 
pings. Carrion, decay, and cloacal secretions will come to seem his 
natural aox>mpaniment: "Butterflies will copulate on the nape of your 
neek. Any patch of ground will seem to you good enough to lie on: 
you will not think of it, as you do now, as prickly, swarming with 
insects, and certainly infectious. , . / 

In the second act we find that the eagle has made Augustus ponder 
the problem of the relation between Nature and Society. He decides to 
see Cinna; Cinna who once chose Nature, as against Society, while 
Augustus, by opting for Society against Nature, set out on the path 
that led to the throne. It is a discouraged Cinna who answers his 
summons. During his ten adventurous years away the thought of 
Camille had dominated all others. Camille was the sister of his boyhood 
friend, and had lie wanted to marry her he liad only to ask. Augustus 
would have given her to him gkdly. But he could not have borne to 
win her within Society s rules; he wanted to bear her off in the teeth 
of its disapproval. Whence his quest for an unorthodox prestige that 
would enable him to force Society s hand and wrest from it what, in 
point of fact, it was only too ready to give. 

Cinna had returned home loaded with marvels. Every hostess in 
Rome had put htm at the top of her list. Only he knew, meanwhile, 
that the celebrity he had paid for so dearly was based on a lie. The 

The Apotheosis of Augustus 379 

experiences with which he was credited were a myth; the journey a 
deception; but all seemed true enough to those who had seen only its 
shadow. Cinna, jealous of Augustus destiny, had coveted an ever 
greater Empire: *I said to myself that no one in the world, not even 
Plato himself, can imagine the infinite diversity of leaves and flowers 
that are to be found in the world. I would be the first to count those 
leaves and those flowers, one by one. I would learn in my own body the 
meaning of fear and cold and hunger and exhaustion things beyond 
the imagining of you who live in comfortable houses with a well-filled 
granary to hand. I ve lived on lizards and snakes and grasshoppers 
things of which the very idea would turn your stomach and I ate 
them with the ardour of a neophyte, convinced that I was forging a 
new bond between myself and the universe. But Cinna s efforts were 
all in vain: *I lost everything, he said. Even what was most human 
became inhuman to me. To while away the interminable days I took to 
reciting lines from Aeschylus and Sophocles; and I so soaked myself in 
some of them that now when I hear them in the theatre their beauty 
means nothing to me. Every phrase reminds me of powdering foot 
paths, and burnt grass, and eyes reddened by the sands/ 

In the later scenes of the second act Augustus, Cinna, and Camille 
stand revealed in the full extent of their predicaments. Camille has eyes 
only for her explorer, who tries in vain to make her see how false are 
his stories. 1 did my best to explain the emptiness and futility of all 
that had happened, but no sooner were these transformed as "a travel 
ler s tale" than she was dazzled and all adream. Yet there was nothing 
to it: the earth was like any other earth, and the tufts of grass like that 
meadow over there/ Finally Camille revolted against his attitude, for 
she knew that she was not exempt from her lover s general loss of 
interest in life. It was not as a person that he loved her, but as a symbol 
of the only possible remaining link between himself and Society. As 
for Augustus he recognized with horror that Cinna was speaking with 
the eagle s voice. But he could not turn back. Too many political 
interests were involved in his apotheosis, and he rebelled, above all, 
against the idea that there was not, for the man of action, a point at 
which he would find at once his rest and his reward. 

The third act opens in an atmosphere of crisis. On the eve of the 
ceremony of apotheosis, all Rome is invaded by divinity. The Imperial 
palace cracks open and animals and plants run wild inside it. The city 
returns to a state of Nature, as if a cataclysm had overwhelmed it. 
Camille has broken with Cinna, and the break gives him the final proof 

380 The Return 

that he has reached a point of total frustration. Augustus becomes the 
Tr>ftin object of his rancour. The relaxed ways of Nature now seem to 
him quite pointless beside the organized delights of humane society; 
but he clings to his uniqueness, none the less: It s nothing, I know, but 
a nothing that is still dear to me, because I chose it* He cannot bear to 
think that both Nature and Society have been granted to Augustus, 
and that instead of winning Nature at the cost of a great renunciation 
Augustus had acquired it over and above Society as a kind of bonus, 
He will kill Augustus, thus proving that choice is, after all, ineluctable. 

At this moment Augustus calk on Cinna to help him. He is no 
longer in control of events. How can he, without stepping out of 
character, resubmit them to his will? In a moment of high excitement 
they agree that the solution is for Cinna to carry out his plan and 
murder Augustus. Each then would gain the immortality he had 
dreamed of: Augustus official immortality as the historian, the sculptor, 
and the priest conceive it; and Cinna the dark immortality of the 
regicide, which would allow him to rejoin Society and yet continue 
to deny it. 

f m not really quite sure how it all ended. (The last scenes remained 
unfinished*) I iancy that Camille involuntarily brought things to a dose: 
reverting to her original sentiments she persuaded Augustus that he had 
misread the situation and that Cinna, rather than the eagle, was the 
emissary of the gods. Augustus then devised a political solution. If he 
could manage to hoodwink Cinna he would also hoodwink the gods. 
He and Cinna had agreed that he would dismiss his bodyguard and 
offer no defence to Cinna s dagger; but when the time actually came 
he would double die guard and make sure that Cinna never got near 
him. Their respective careers would remain perfectly in character: 
Augustus would bring off the last of his great ventures; he would be a 
god, but a god among men, and he would pardon Cinna; for Cinna it 
would be just one more Mure. 

3 5 ^4 Little Glass of Rum 



. HE foregoing fable has only one excuse: that it 
illustrates the disordered state of mind into which one is plunged by 
the prolonged abnormality of the traveller s way of life. But die 
problem has still to be solved: how can the anthropologist get free of 
the contradiction implicit in the circumstances of his choice? Under his 
very nose, and at his disposition, he has a society: his own. Why does 
he decide to disdain it, reserving for societies distant and different from 
his own the patience and devotion which he has deliberately withheld 
from his fellow-citizens? It is not by chance that the anthropologist is 
rarely on terms of neutrality with his own social group. Where he is a 
missionary or an administrator, he can be presumed to have identified 
himself so entirely with a certain order that all his energies are now 
given to its propagation. And when his professional activity takes place 
on the scientific or higher academic level, objective factors in his past 
can very probably be adduced to prove that he is ill- or unstated to 
the society into which he was born. He has, in fact, become an anthro 
pologist for one of two reasons: either he finds it a practical method of 
reconciling his membership of a group with his severely qualified 
acceptance of it or, more amply, he wishes to turn to advantage an 
initial attitude of detachment which has already brought him, as we say, 
half-way to meet 5 societies unlike his own. 

But if he tries to think straight, he will have to ask himself whether 
he is really justified in setting such great store by exotic societies (and 
the more exotic they are, the more he will prize them), Is this not 
rather a function of the disdain, not to say the hostility, which he feels 
for the customs of his own milieu? At home, the anthropologist may be 
a natural subversive, a convinced opponent of traditional usage: but no 
sooner has he in focus a society different from his own than he becomes 
respectful of even the most conservative practices. Nor is this mere 
perversity: I have known anthropologists who were also conformists, 


382 The Return 

But their rofifomsism is derived retrospectively and at second hand, as 
a result of their having already assimilated their own society into the 
societies they were investigating. It is to the latter that they owe 
allegiance, and, if they have thought better of their initial revolt against 
their own society, it is because they have made an additional concession 
to tiie otfaors: that of treating their own society as they would wish all 
others to be treated. The dilemma is inescapable: either the anthro 
pologist clings to die norms of his own group, in which case the others 
can only inspire in him an ephemeral curiosity in which there is always 
an dement of disapproval; or he makes himself over completely to the 
objects of his studies, in which case he can never be perfectly objective, 
because in giving himself to all societies he cannot but refuse himself, 
wittingly or not, to one among them. He commits, that is to say, the 
sin with which he reproaches those who question the privileged status 
of his vocation. 

I first began to worry seriously about this at the time of the enforced 
sojourn in the Antilles which I have described in my opening chapters. 
In Martinique I went over certain rusticated, half-abandoned rum- 
distilleries where neither methods nor apparatus had been changed 
since the eighteenth century. In Porto Rico, by contrast, the factories 
of the company which enjoys a quasi-monopoly of canersugar were 
agleam with white-enamelled tanks andchromimit-pkted faucets. And 
yet in Martinique, where the ancient wooden barrels are silted up with 
sediment, the rum was like velvet on the palate and had a delicious 
scent: in Porto Rico it was brutal and vulgar. Can it be that the finesse 
of the Martiniquais nims was due to impurities which archaic methods 
of manufacture do nothing to disturb? The contrast illustrated, to my 
way of thinking, the paradox of civilization: we know that its magic 
derives from the presence within it of certain impurities, and yet we 
can never resist the impulse to dean up precisely those elements which 
give it its charm. We are doubly right but that very tightness proves us 
wrong. For we are right to wish to increase our production and cut 
manufacturing costs. But we are also right when we treasure some of 
the imperfections which we are doing our best to eliminate. Society 
sets itselC in short, to destroy precisely those things which give it most 
flavour. This contradiction does not seem to apply so directly to 
societies unlike our own. For as we are ourselves implicated in the 
evolution of our own society, we are to some extent in the dock with 
the accused. Our situation compels us to take certain courses of action 
towards certain ends, and there is nothing we can do to prevent this. 

A Little Glass of Ram 3^3 

But when another society comes under scrutiny, all is changed: object 
ivity, out of the question before, is ours for die asking. Where we had 
been agents in the transformations in progress, we become mere 
spectators, all the more able to estimate the situation in that the balance 
of future and past, which had been present to us as a moral dilemma, 
can now be a pretext for aesthetic contemplation and disinterested 

In thus thinking the matter out, I may have shown just where the 
contradiction lies. I may have shown where it began, and how we 
managed to come to terms with it. But I have certainly not put an end 
to it. Must we therefore conclude that it is with us for ever? People 
have sometimes said so, and inferred from this that our work was quite 
pointless. Our vocation expressed itself, they said, in a liking for 
societies and cultures very different from our own. It caused us, in fact, 
to overestimate the one at the expense of the other. Surely this pointed 
to a basic inconsistency? How could we announce that these societies 
were important*, if our judgment were not based on the values of the 
society which inspired us to begin our researches? We ourselves were 
the products of certain inescapable norms; and if we claimed to be able 
to estimate one form of society in its relation to another we were 
merely rl aiming., in a shamefaced and roundabout way, that our 
society was superior to all the others. 

Behind the arguments of these worthy spokesmen there was 
nothing but an execrable pky upon words: they pretended that mysti 
fication (which they themselves so often practise) is the contrary of 
mysticism (with which they, quite wrongly, reproach us). Hie enr- 
qtriries of archaeology and anthropology show that certain civilizations 
some of them now vanished, others still with us have known quite 
well how best to solve problems with, which we are still straggling. To 
take one instance only: it is now only a few years since we discovered the 
physical and physiological principles on which are based the Bskimoes* 
costume and manner of life. If they can exist in these conditions, it is 
not from long conditioning, or from an exceptional physical constir- 
tution, but from their discovery of scientific principles of which we had 
until lately no idea at all. So true was this that it also exploded the 
pretensions of those explorers who had claimed to have improved 
upon* Eskimo costume: the results were the opposite of those that had 
been hoped for. The Eskimoes had already arrived at the perfect 
solution: all that we needed, to be convinced of this, was to grasp the 
theory which lay beneath it. 

3 84 The Return 

The difficulty does not lie there. Certain social groups must be 
adjudged superior to ourselves, if the comparison rests upon their 
success in reaching objectives comparable to our own; but, in the same 
instant, we earn the right to pass judgment upon them, and therefore 
to condemn all those other objectives which do not coincide with our 
own. Implicitly we claim for our own society, for its customs, and for 
its norms, a position of privilege, since an observer from a different 
social group would pass different verdicts upon those same examples. 
This being so, how can we claim for our studies the rank of a 
science? If we are to get back to a position of objectivity, we should 
abstain from all judgments of this sort. We have to admit that human 
societies can choose among a gamut of possibilities. These choices 
cannot be compared with each other: one is as good as another. But 
then there arises a new problem; for if, in the first instance, we are 
threatened by obscurantism, in the form of a blind rejection of anything 
that is not our own, there is also an alternative danger: that of an 
eclecticism which bids us reject nothing at all, when faced with an 
alien culture. Even if that society should itself protest against the cruelty, 
the injustice, and the poverty which characterize it, we must not pass 
judgment. But as these abuses also exist among ourselves, how shall 
we have the right to fight them at home if, when they appear elsewhere, 
we make no move to protest? 

The anthropologist who is critic at home and conformist elsewhere 
is therefore in a contradictory position. But beneath this contradiction 
is another, from which it is even less easy to escape. If he wishes to 
contribute to the improvement of his own social system he cannot but 
condemn, wherever he comes upon them, conditions analogous to 
those which he deplores at home. He loses, in so doing, all claim to be 
objective and impartial. Conversely the detachment enjoined upon him 
by moral scruples, and by the rigorous methods of science, will prevent 
him from finding fault with his own society, once it is taken for granted 
that his business is to know, not to pass judgment. The man who takes 
action in his own country cannot hope to understand the world outside: 
the man who takes all knowledge for his ambition must give up the 
idea of ever changing anything at home. 

If the contradiction were insurmountable the anthropologist would 
be wrong to hesitate over the alternatives which are open to him. He is 
what he has chosen to be: an anthropologist; therefore he must accept 
the mutilated condition which is the price of his vocation. He has 
chosen and must accept the consequences of his choice: his place lies 

A Little Glass of Rum 385 

with the others , and his role is to understand them. Never can he act 
in their name, for their very otherness prevents him from thinking or 
willing in their place: to do so would be tantamount to identifying 
himself with them. He must also resign himself to taking no action in 
his own society, for fear of adopting a partisan s position in respect of 
values which may recur in other societies: such a position could not 
but then prejudice his judgment. His initial choice alone will remain, 
and he will make no attempt to justify that choice. It is a pure, a 
motiveless act: or, if motivated at all, will derive from external 
considerations, borrowed from the history or the character of each one 
of us. 

Luckily we have not yet reached that point. We are on the edge of 
the abyss, and we have peeped into it, but we can still look for a way 
out. And get out we can, provided that we are not too extreme in our 
judgments and are willing to phase the difficulty in two stages. 

No society is perfect. Each has within itself, by nature, an impurity 
incompatible with the norms to which it kys claim: this impurity finds 
outlet in elements of injustice, cruelty, and insensitivity. How are we 
to evaluate those elements? Anthropological enquiry can provide the 
answer. For while the comparison of a small number of societies will 
make them seem very different from one another, these differences will 
seem smaller and smaller as the field of investigation is enlarged. It will 
eventually become plain that no human society is fundamentally good: 
but neither is any of them fundamentally bad; all offer their members 
certain advantages, though we must bear in mind a residue of iniquity, 
apparently more or less constant in its importance, which may corres 
pond to a specific inertia which offers resistance, on the level of social 
Hfe, to all attempts at organization. 

This may surprise the habitual reader of travel-books, who delights 
in hearing of the barbarous 5 customs of this people or that. But these 
superficial reactions are soon put in their place, once the facts have been 
correctly interpreted and re-established in a wider perspective. Take 
the case of cannibalism, which is of all savage practices the one we find 
the most horrible and disgusting. We must set aside those cases in 
which people eat one another for lack of any other meat as was the 
case in certain parts of Polynesia. No society is proof, morally speaking, 
against the demands of hunger. In times of starvation men will eat 
literally anything, as we lately saw in the Nazi extermination-camps. 

There remain to be considered what we may call the positive 
forms of cannibalism those whose origins are mystical, magical, or 


386 The Return 

religious. By eating part of the body of an ancestor, or a fragment of an 
enemy corpse, the cannibal hoped to acquire the virtues, or perhaps to 
neutralize the power, of the dead man. Such rites were often observed 
with great discretion, the vital mouthful being made up of a small 
quantity of pulverized organic matter mixed, on occasion, with other 
forms of food. And even when the element of cannibalism was more 
openly avowed, we must acknowledge that to condemn such customs 
on moral grounds implies either belief in a bodily resurrection, which 
would be compromised by the material destruction of the corpse, or 
the affirmation of a link between body and spirit, and of the resulting 
dualism. These convictions are of the same nature as those in the name 
of which ritual cannibalism is practised, and we have no good reason 
for preferring the one to the other all the more so as the disregard for 
the sanctity of death, with which we reproach the cannibal, is certainly 
no greater, and indeed arguably much less, than that which we tolerate 
in our European anatomy lessons . 

But above all we must realize that certain of our own usages, if 
investigated by an observer from a different society, would seem to 
him similar in kind to the cannibalism which we consider uncivilized*. 
I am thinking here of our judicial and penitentiary customs. If we were 
to look at them from outside it would be tempting to distinguish two 
opposing types of society: those which practise cannibalism who 
believe, that is to say, that the only way to neutralize people who are 
the repositories of certain redoubtable powers, and even to turn them 
to one s own advantage, is to absorb them into one s own body* 
Second would come those which, like our own, adopt what might be 
called anthropoemia (from the Greek emein, to vomit). Faced with the 
same problem, they have chosen the opposite solution. They expel 
these formidable beings from the body public by isolating them for a 
time, or for ever, denying them all contact with humanity, in establish 
ments devised for that express purpose. In most of the societies which 
we would call primitive this custom would inspire the profoundest 
horror: we should seem to them barbarian in the same degree as we 
impute to them on the ground of their no-more-than-symmetrical 

Societies which seem to us ferocious may turn out, when examined 
from another point of view, to have their humane and benevolent 
sides. Take the Plains Indians of North America: they are doubly 
significant first because some of them practised a moderated form of 
cannibalism, and second because they are one of the few primitive 

A Little Glass of Rum 387 

peoples who were endowed with an organized police force. This force, 
which also had to mete out justice, would never have imagined that 
the punishments accorded to the guilty could take the form of a 
severance of social links. An Indian who broke the laws of his tribe 
would be sentenced to the destruction of all his belongings his tent 
and his horses. But at the same time the police became indebted to him 
and were required, in fact, to compensate him for the harm he had been 
made to suffer. This restitution put the criminal, once again, in debt to 
the group, and he was obliged to acknowledge this by a series of gifts 
which the entire community including the police would help him 
to get together. These reciprocities continued, by way of gifts and 
counter-gifts, until the initial disorder created by the crime and its 
punishment had been completely smoothed over and order was once 
again complete. Not only are such customs more humane than our 
own, but they are more coherent, even if we are to formulate the 
problem in terms of modern psychology. It would seem logical that 
in return for the infantilization of the guilty man which is implied in 
the notion of punishment, we should also acknowledge that he is 
entitled to a gratification of some sort. If this is not done, the initial 
step loses its effectiveness and may even bring about results directly 
contrary to those hoped for in the first place. The summit of absurdity 
in this context is to do as we do and treat the guilty simultaneously as 
children, in that they are meet for punishment, and as grown-ups, in 
that we refuse them all subsequent consolation. It is grotesque to believe 
that we have made a great spiritual advance simply because, instead 
of eating our fellow human beings, we prefer to mutilate them, both 
physically and morally. 

If analyses of this sort are sincerely and methodically conducted 
they have two results. First, they encourage us to take a level-headed 
and unbiassed view of customs and ways of life remote from our own 
without, however, attributing to them absolute merits such as no 
society can claim to possess. Second, they dissuade us from taking for 
granted the rightness or naturalness of our own customs, as can easily 
be the case if we know of no others, or know of them only partly 
and with bias. Anthropological analysis tends, admittedly, to enhance 
the prestige of other societies and diminish that of our own: in that 
respect its action is contradictory. But reflection will show, I think, 
that this contradiction is more apparent than real. 

It has sometimes been said that only in western society have anthro 
pologists been produced. Therein, it was said, lay its greatness; 


388 The Return 

anthropology might question all its other merits, but here at least was 
one before which we could not but bow our heads, since, but for that, 
we ourselves would not exist. But the contrary argument could also 
be sustained: that if the West has produced anthropologists, it is because 
it was so tormented by remorse that it had to compare its own image 
with that of other societies, in the hope that they would either display 
the same shortcomings or help the West to explain how these defects 
could have come into being. But even if it is true that the comparison 
of our own society with all others, present or past, will lead to the 
collapse of the foundations on which it rests even so, others will meet 
the same fate. The general average of which I spoke earlier throws into 
relief the existence of a few sociological ogres, among whom we 
ourselves must be numbered. Nor is this an accident: if it were not that 
we deserved, and for that matter still deserve, first prize in this grim 
competition, anthropology would never have come into being; we 
should have felt no need of it. If anthropology cannot take a detached 
view of our civilization, or declare itself not responsible for that 
civilization s evils, it is because its very existence is unintelligible unless 
we regard it as an attempt to redeem it. Yet other societies have shared 
in the same original sin, though they are doubtless few in number, and 
fewer still as we descend the ladder of progress. I need cite one instance 
only: that open wound on the flank of Americanism, the Aztecs. Their 
maniacal obsession with blood and torture is a universal trait, but 
comparison allows us to define it in their case as excessive, even if it 
can be explained in terms of the necessity of taming the fear of death. 
That obsession puts them on a par with ourselves; for, if they were not 
alone in their iniquity, they nevertheless stand, as we ourselves stand in 
other respects, on the side of immoderation. 

And yet this self-inflicted self-condemnation does not mean that we 
award a first prize for excellence to this or that society, present or past, 
localized at a determinable point in space or time. That would be a 
great injustice: for we should be failing to, realize that if we had been 
members of that prize-winning society we might have found it 
intolerable and condemned it, just as we condemn die one to which we 
belong today. Is it then the case that anthropology tends to condemn 
all forms of social order, whatever they may be, and to glorify a 
condition of Nature which can only be corrupted by the establishment 
of social order? Don t trust the man who comes to put things in order, 
said Diderot, whose position has just been stated. For him the history 
of our race could be summed up as follows: Once there was natural 

A Little Glass of Rum 389 

Man. Within that natural Man, an artificial Man was later introduced. 
Between the two, war broke out, and will go on raging till life comes 
to an end. This conception is absurd. Whoever says Man 5 , says 
Language , and whoever says Language , says Society . The Poly 
nesians visited by Bougainville (and it was in the Supplement to 
Bougainville s travels that Diderot put forward his theory) lived in 
society every bit as much as we do. Anyone who questions this is 
moving counter to the direction in which anthropological analysis 
would have us go. 

Turning over these problems in my mind, I become convinced 
that Rousseau s is the only answer to them. Rousseau is much decried 
these days; never has his work been so little known; and he has to face, 
above all, the absurd accusation that he glorified the state of Nature 
for its own sake. (That may have been Diderot s error, but it was never 
Rousseau s.) What Rousseau said was the exact contrary; and he 
remains the only man who shows us how to get clear of the con 
tradictions into which his adversaries have led us. Rousseau, of all the 
philosophes, came nearest to being an anthropologist. He never travelled 
in distant countries, certainly; but his documentation was as complete 
as it could be at that time and, unlike Voltaire, he brought his know 
ledge alive by the keenness of his interest in peasant customs and 
popular thought. Rousseau is our master and our. brother, great as has 
been our ingratitude towards him; and every page of this book could 
have been dedicated to him, had the object thus proffered not been 
unworthy of his great memory. For there is only one way in which 
we can escape the contradiction inherent in the notion of position of the 
anthropologist, and that is by reformulating, on our own account, the 
intellectual procedures which allowed Rousseau to move forward from 
the ruins left by the Discours sur rOrigine de Tlnegalite to the ample 
design of the Social Contract, of which Emile reveals the secret. He it is 
who showed us how, after we have destroyed every existing order, we 
can still discover the principles which allow us to erect a new order in 
their stead. 

Never did Rousseau make Diderot s mistake that of exalting the 
natural Man . There is no risk of his confusing the state of Nature with 
the state of Society; he knows that the latter is inherent in mankind, 
but that it brings evils with it, and that the question to be solved is 
whether or not these evils are themselves inherent in that state. We must 
go beyond the evidence of the injustices of abuses to which the social 
order gives rise and discover the unshakable basis of human society. 

390 The Return 

There are two ways in which anthropology contributes to this quest. 
It shows that that base cannot be found in our own civilization: of all 
the societies we can examine ours is indeed perhaps the one furthest 
from it. Secondly, by enabling vis to distinguish the characteristics 
common to the majority of human societies, it helps us to constitute a 
model, to which no society corresponds exactly, but which defines 
closely the direction in which our investigations should be oriented. 
Rousseau thought that the image nearest to it, for experimental 
purposes, was what we now call the neolithic age. I am inclined to 
think that he was right. In the neolithic age, Man had already made most 
of the inventions which are indispensable to his security. We have seen 
why writing need not be included among these; to say that writing is 
a double-edged weapon is not a mark of primitivism ; the cyber- 
neticians of our own day have rediscovered that truth. During the 
neolithic age, Man put himself beyond the reach of cold and hunger; he 
acquired leisure to think; and although he was more or less at the 
mercy of disease it is not certain that our advances in the field of 
hygiene have done more than transfer to other mechanisms the 
responsibility of maintaining a certain measure of demographic 
equilibrium: the epidemics which contributed to that equilibrium were 
no more dreadful than the famines and wars of extermination which 
later took their place. 

In that myth-minded age, Man was no more free than he is today; 
but it was his humanness alone which kept him enslaved. As he had only 
a very restricted control over Nature, he was protected, and to a certain 
degree emancipated, by the protective cushion of his dreams. As and 
when these dreams turned into knowledge, so did Man s power in 
crease; this gave us, if I may so put it, the upper hand over the 
universe, and we still take an immense pride in it. But what is it, in 
reality, if not the subjective awareness that humanity is being pro 
gressively more and more sundered from the physical universe? The 
great determining factors in that universe are no longer acting upon 
us as redoubtable strangers; rather is their operation not now through 
the intermediacy of thought, as they colonize us in the interests of the 
silent world whose agents we have now become? 

Rousseau was probably right when he held that it would have been 
better for our happiness if humanity had kept to the middle ground 
between the indolence of the primitive state and the questing activity 
to which we are prompted by our amour-propre 9 . That middle state 
was, he said, the best for Man ; and only some ill-boding turn of 

A Little Glass of Rum 

events could have caused us to leave it. That turn of events was found 
in the development of mechanical civilizations a phenomenon doubly 
exceptional in that it was first, unique, and second, belated. And yet it 
remains clear that the middle state of which Rousseau wrote is in no 
way a primitive condition. It presupposes and tolerates a certain degree 
of progress; and although no society as yet described corresponds to its 
privileged image, even if the example of the savages, who have almost 
always been found at this point of development, seems to confirm that 
mankind was designed to remain at it for ever . 

The study of these savages does not reveal a Utopian state of 
Nature; nor does it make us aware of a perfect society hidden deep in 
the forests. It helps us to construct a theoretical model of a society which 
corresponds to none that can be observed in reality, but will help us to 
disentangle what in the present nature of Man is original, and what is 
artificial . It also helps us to know closely a state which no longer 
exists, which may never have existed, which probably never will exist, 
and of which we must, none the less, have an exact notion if we are to 
judge our present situation correctly . I have already quoted this in 
order to bring out the significance of my observations among the 
Nambikwara; for Rousseau s thought, ever in advance of his time, does 
not dissociate theoretical sociology from those researches in the 
laboratory, or in the field, which he knew to be necessary. Natural 
Man does not pre-date Society; nor is he outside it. Our task is to re 
discover the natural Man in his relation to the social state outside of 
which our human condition cannot be imagined; the anthropologist 
must draw up, therefore, the programme of the experiments which are 
necessary if we are to understand natural Man ; and he must determine 
the best way of making these experiments within Society itself . 

But this model and here lies Rousseau s solution is eternal and 
universal. Other societies may not be better than our own; even if we 
believe them to be so we have no way of proving it. But knowing 
them better does none the less help us to detach ourselves from our own 
society. It is not that our society is absolutely evil, or that others, are 
not evil also; but merely that ours is the only society from which 
we have to disentangle ourselves. In doing so, we put ourselves in a 
position to attempt the second phase of our undertaking: that in which, 
while not clinging to elements from any one particular society, we 
make use of one and all of them in order to distinguish those principles 
of social life which may be applied to the reform of our own customs, 
and not of those of societies foreign to our own. In relation to our 

392 The Return 

own society, that is to say, we stand in a position of privilege which 
is exactly contrary to that which I have just described; for our own 
society is the only one which we can transform and yet not destroy, 
since the changes which we should introduce would come from within. 
There is a risk, certainly, in placing beyond space and time the 
model from which we take our inspiration: the risk of underestimating 
the reality of progress. Our argument is, in brief, that men have always 
and everywhere undertaken the same task, and assigned to themselves 
the same object; all that has differed is the means employed. I must own 
that this attitude does not at all disturb me; it seems the closest to the 
facts, as they are revealed to us by history and anthropology; and above 
all it seems to me to yield results. The zealots of progress run the risk 
of underestimating, and thus of knowing too little about, the immense 
riches which our race has accumulated to one side and the other of the 
narrow furrow on which they keep their eyes fixed. By overvaluing 
the importance of what has been done in the past, they depreciate what 
still remains to be done. If our race has concentrated on one task, and 
one alone that of building a society in which Man can live then 
the sources of strength on which our remote ancestors drew are present 
also in ourselves. All the stakes are still on the board, and we can take 
them up at any time we please. Whatever was done, and done badly, 
can be begun all over again: The golden age which blind superstition 
situated behind or ahead of us is in us. 9 Human brotherhood acquires 
a palpable significance when we find our image of it confirmed in the 
poorest of tribes, and when that tribe offers us an experience which, 
when joined with many hundreds of others, has a lesson to teach us. 
That lesson may even come to us with a milleniary freshness; for, 
knowing as we do that for thousands of years past mankind has done 
nothing but repeat itself, we shall attain that noble cast of thought 
which, transcending all that has been done and redone, assigns as the 
starting-point of our reflections that indefinable grandeur which is the 
mark of true beginnings. To be a man means, for each of us, member 
ship of a class, a society, a country, a continent, and a civilization. For 
those of us who are earth-bound Europeans, our adventurings into the 
heart of the New World have a lesson to teach us: that the New World 
was not ours to destroy, and yet we destroyed it; and that no other will 
be vouchsafed to us. In grasping these truths we come face to face with 
ourselves. Let us, at any rate, set them out as they first appeared to us, 
in that place, and at that moment in time, when our world lost the 
chance that was still open to it: that of choosing between its missions. 

36 Conclusion 

IT WAS in Asia, many years later, that for myself, at 
any rate the problems suggested by this book were to find their 
solution. In September 1950 1 was in a Mogh village in the Chittagong 
hill tracts. For some days I had been watching the women as they went 
each morning to the temple with food for the bonzes. During the 
siesta hours I listened to the strokes on the gong which punctuated the 
prayers, and to the children s voices softly intoning the Burmese 
alphabet. The kyong stood at the edge of the village on the top of a 
little wooded hillock like those with which Tibetan painters like to 
garnish their far distances. At its foot was the jedi, or pagoda. In that 
poor village it was no more than a circular earthen construction which 
rose from the ground in seven concentric stages, rising step by step, in a 
square enclosure trellised with bamboo. We took off our shoes before 
climbing up, and the moistened surface of the clay was very agreeable 
to the feet. Here and there on the steep little slope we could see the 
stalks of pineapples that had been wrenched off the day before by 
people from the village who felt it to be improper that their priests, 
whose needs were looked to by the ky population, should also allow 
themselves to grow fruit. The top of the hillock looked hie a tiny 
town-square surrounded on three sides by straw hangars, beneath 
which were sheltering large objects made of bamboo and hung with 
many-coloured paper. These kite-like creations were made for use in 
local processions. On the fourth side stood the temple itself; it stood on 
stakes like the houses of the village, and differed from them only in that 
it was bigger and that a thatch-roofed square feature dominated the 
main part of the building. After our upward scramble tkough the mud, 
the ritual ablutions came quite naturally and seemed to have no 
religious significance. We went into the temple. There was no light 
but that which came down from the top of the lantern formed by the 
hollow cage in the centre, just above where the altar was bedecked with 


The Return 

standards of rag or matting. Certain glimmers also penetrated the 
thatch of the walls. About fifty brass statues stood about on the altar 
and beside it was hung a gong. On the walls we could see one or two 
pious chromolithographs and the skull of a stag. The floor was made 
up of large sections of bamboo, split down the middle and plaited 
together. Shiny from the continual movement of bare feet, it yielded 
to the touch as softly as any carpet. A peaceful barn-like atmosphere 
prevailed and there was a smell of hay. The simple, spacious room 
might have been an abandoned hay-loft; and when combined with the 
courtesy of the two bonzes, erect, with their two straw pallets on 
bedsteads, and with the touching care and devotion which had been 
lavished on the assemblage or manufacture of all the accessories of 
worship, all this brought me nearer than ever before to having some 
idea of the meaning of a sanctuary. You need not do as I do, said my 
companion as he prostrated himself four times before the altar: and I, 
respecting his opinion, remained motionless. This was rather from 
discretion than from amour-propre: he knew that I did not subscribe to 
his faith, and I should have been afraid of abusing the ritual gestures 
had I given him to believe that I thought them no more than con 
ventions. And yet, for once, I should have felt no embarrassment had I 
followed his example. Between that form of worship and myself there 
was no misunderstanding to get in the way. It was not a question of 
bowing down to idols, or of adoring a supposedly supernatural order 
of things, but simply of paying homage to decisive reflections which 
had been formed twenty-five centuries earlier by a thinker, or by the 
society which created his legend. To those reflections my civilization 
could contribute only by confirming them. 

For what, after all, have I learnt from the masters I have listened to, 
the philosophers I have read, the societies I have investigated, and that 
very Science in which the West takes such a pride? Simply a fragmentary 
lesson or two which, if laid end to end, would reconstitute the 
meditations of the Sage at the foot of his tree. When we make an 
effort to understand, we destroy the object of our attachment, substi 
tuting another whose nature is quite different. That other object re 
quires of us another effort, which in its turn destroys the second object 
and substitutes a third and so on until we reach the only enduring 
Presence, which is that in which all distinction between meaning and 
the absence of meaning disappears: and it is from that Presence that we 
started in the first place. It is now two thousand five hundred years 
since men discovered and formulated these truths. Since then we have 

Conclusion 395 

discovered nothing new unless it be that whenever we investigated 
what seemed to be a way out, we met with a further proof of the 
conclusions from which we had tried to escape. 

Of course I am also aware of the dangers of a state of resignation 
that has been arrived at too hastily. This great religion of not-knowing- 
ness is not based upon our incapacity to understand. It bears witness, 
rather, to our natural gifts, raising us to the point at which we discover 
truth in the guise of the mutual exclusiveness of being and knowing. 
And, by a further audacity, it has achieved something that, elsewhere, 
only Marxism has brought off: it has reconciled the problem of meta 
physics with the problem of human behaviour. Its schism appeared on 
the sociological level, in that the fundamental point of difference 
between the Great and the Little Vehicles is whether or not we should 
believe that the salvation of any one individual depends on the 
salvation of humanity as a whole. 

And yet the historical solutions of Buddhist morality lead to a 
chilling alternative: either Man must answer Yes to the question I have 
just outlined, in which case he must enter a monastery; or he thinks 
differently and gets off lightly with the practice of a virtuous egoism. 
But injustice, poverty, and suffering exist: and, by existing, provide 
an intermediary solution. We are not alone, and it is not within our 
control either to remain deaf and blind to the rest of mankind, or to 
plead guilty, in ourselves, for all humanity. Buddhism can remain 
perfectly coherent and, at the same time, respond to appeals from 
without. Perhaps even, in a vast section of the world, it has found the 
missing link in the chain. For if the last moment in the dialectical 
process which leads to enlightenment is of value, so also are all those 
moments which precede and are similar to it. The absolute No to 
meaning is the last of a series of stages which leads from a lesser to a 
greater meaning. The last step needs, and at the same time validates, 
all those which went before it. In its own way, and on its own level, 
each of them corresponds to a truth. Between Marxist criticism which 
sets Man free from his first chains, and Buddhist criticism, which 
completes that liberation, there is neither opposition nor contradiction. 
(The Marxist teaches that the apparent significance of Man s condition 
will vanish the moment he agrees to enlarge the object that he has under 
consideration.) Marxism and Buddhism are doing the same thing, but 
at different levels. The passage between the two extremes is guaranteed 
by all those advances in knowledge that our race has accomplished in 
the last two thousand years, thanks to an indissoluble movement ot 

The Return 

thought which runs from East to West and, perhaps only to confirm its 
origin, lias removed from one to the other. Just as beliefs and super 
stitions dissolve when we try to fix clearly in our minds the truth about 
human relations, so does morality give way to history, and fluid forms 
give way to constructions, and creation give way to nothingness. We 
have only to turn the initial move back upon itself to discover its 
symmetry; its parts can be superimposed one upon the other, and the 
stages through which we have already passed are not cancelled, but 
rather confirmed, by those which succeed them. 

As he moves forward within his environment, Man takes with him 
all the positions that he has occupied in the past, and all those that he 
will occupy in the future. He is everywhere at the same time, a crowd 
which, in die act of moving forward, yet recapitulates at every instant 
every step that it has ever taken in the past. For we live in several 
worlds, each more true than the one within it, and each false in relation 
to that within which it is itself enveloped. Some of these worlds may 
be apprehended in action, others exist because we have them in our 
thoughts: but the apparent contradictoriness of their co-existence is 
resolved by the fact that we are constrained to accord meaning to those 
worlds which are nearer to us, and to refuse it to those more distant. 
Truth lies rather in the progressive expansion of meaning: but an 
expansion conducted inwards from without and pushed home to 

As an anthropologist I am no longer, therefore, the only person to 
suffer from a contradiction which is proper to humanity as a whole 
and bears within itself the reason for its existence. Only when I isolate 
the two extremes does the contradiction still persist: for what is the use 
of action, if the thinking which guides that action leads to the discovery 
of meaninglessness? But that discovery cannot be made immediately: 
it must be thought, and I cannot think it all at once. There may be 
twelve stages, as in the Boddhi; but whether they are fewer, or more 
numerous, they exist as a single whole, and if I am to get to the end of 
them, I shall be called upon continually to live through situations, each 
of which demands something of me: I owe myself to mankind, just as 
much as to knowledge. History, politics, the social and economic 
universe, the physical world, even the sky all surround me in 
concentric circles, and I can only escape from those circles in thought if 
I concede to each of them some part of my being. Like the pebble 
which marks the surface of the wave with circles as it passes through it, 
I must throw myself into the water if I am to plumb the depths. 

Conclusion 397 

The world began without the human race and it will end without 
it. The institutions, manners, and customs which I shall have spent my 
life in cataloguing and trying to understand are an ephemeral efflores 
cence of a creative process in relation to which they are meaningless, 
unless it be that they allow humanity to play its destined role. That role 
does not, however, assign to our race a position of independence. Nor, 
even if Man himself is condemned, are his vain efforts directed towards 
the arresting of a universal process of decline. Far from it: his role is 
itself a machine, brought perhaps to a greater point of perfection than 
any other, whose activity hastens the disintegration of an initial order 
and precipitates a powerfully organized Matter towards a condition of 
inertia which grows ever greater and will one day prove definitive. 
From the day when he first learned how to breathe and how to keep 
himself alive, through the discovery of fire and right up to the in 
vention of the atomic and thermonuclear devices of the present day, 
Man has never save only when he reproduces himself done other 
than cheerfully dismantle million upon million of structures and reduce 
their elements to a state in which they can no longer be reintegrated. 
No doubt he has built cities and brought the soil to fruition; but if we 
examine these activities closely we shall find that they also are inertia- 
producing machines, whose scale and speed of action are infinitely 
greater than the amount of organization implied in them. As for the 
creations of the human mind, they are meaningful only in relation to 
that mind and will fall into nothingness as soon as it ceases to exist. 
Taken as a whole, therefore, civilization can be described as a pro 
digiously complicated mechanism: tempting v as it would be to regard 
it as our universe s best hope of survival, its true function is to produce 
what physicists call entropy: inertia, that is to say. Every scrap of 
conversation, every line set up in type, establishes a communication 
between two interlocutors, levelling what had previously existed on 
two different planes and had had, for that reason, a greater degree of 
organization. Entropology , not anthropology, should be the word for 
the discipline that devotes itself to the study of this process of disinte 
gration in its most highly evolved forms. 

And yet I exist. Not in any way, admittedly, as an individual: for 
what am I, in that respect, but a constantly renewed stake in the struggle 
between the society, formed by the several million nerve-cells which 
take shelter in the anthill of the brain, and my body, which serves that 
society as a robot? Neither psychology, nor metaphysics, nor art can 
provide me with a refuge; for one and all are myths subject, within 

The Return 

and without, to that new kind of sociology which will arise one day 
and treat them as severely as has our earlier one. Not merely is the first 
person singular detestable: there is no room for it between ourselves 
and nothing . And if, in the end, I opt for ourselves , although it is no 
more than an appearance, it is because unless I destroy myself an act 
which would wipe out the conditions of the decision I have to make 
there is really only one choice to be made: between that appearance and 
nothing. But no sooner have I chosen than, by that very choice, I take 
on myself, unreservedly, my condition as a man. Thus liberated from 
an intellectual pride whose futility is only equalled by that of its object, 
I also agree to subordinate its claims to the objective will-to-emancipa 
tion of that multitude of human beings who are still denied the means 
of choosing their own destiny. 

Man is not alone in the universe, any more than the individual is 
alone in the group, or any one society alone among other societies. 
Even if the rainbow of human cultures should go down for ever into 
the abyss which we are so insanely creating, there will still remain open 
to us provided we are alive and the world is in existence a precarious 
arch that points towards the inaccessible. The road which it indicates 
to us is one that leads directly away from our present serfdom: and 
even if we cannot set off along it, merely to contemplate it will procure 
us the only grace that we know how to deserve. The grace to call a 
halt, that is to say: to check the impulse which prompts Man always to 
block up, one after another, such fissures as may be open in the blank 
wall of necessity and to round off his achievement by slamming shut 
the doors of his own prison. This is the grace for which every society 
longs, irrespective of its beliefs, its political regime, its level of 
civilization. It stands, in every case, for leisure, and recreation, and 
freedom, and peace of body and mind. On this opportunity, this chance 
of for once detaching oneself from the implacable process, life itself 
depends. Farewell to savages, then, farewell to journeying! And 
instead, during the brief intervals in which humanity can bear to 
interrupt its hive-like labours, let us grasp the essence of what our 
species has been and still is, beyond thought and beneath society: an 
essence that may be vouchsafed to us in a mineral more beautiful than 
any work of Man; in the scent, more subtly evolved than our books, 
that lingers in the heart of a lily; or in the wink of an eye, heavy with 
patience, serenity, and mutual forgiveness, that sometimes, through an 
involuntary understanding, one can exchange with a cat. 


Handbook of South American Indians, ed. by J. Stewart, Smithsonian 

Institution, Washington,, D.C., 6 vok, 1946-50. 
p, GAFFAREL, Histoire du Brtsilfran$ais au i6 e siecle, Paris, 1878. 
j. DE LERY, Histoire fun voyage faict en la terre du Bresil new edition (by P. 

Gaffarel), Paris, 1880, 2 vols. 
A. THEVET, Le Br6sil et les Bresiliens , in Les classiques de la colonization, 2\ 

selected and annotated by Suzanne Lussagnet, Paris, *953- ^ 
Y. D VREUX, Voyage dans le Nord du Brtsilfait durant les anrites 1613-14, 

Leipzig and Paris, 1864. 

L. A. DE BOUGAINVILLE, Voyage autour du monde, Paris, 1771, 
p. MONBEIG, Pionniers et planteurs de Sao Paulo, Paris, 1952. 
j. SANCHEZ-LABRADOR, El Paraguay Catolico, 3 vols. Buenos Aires, 1910-17. 
G. BOGGIANI, Viaggi d un artista neW America Meridionale, Rome, 1895. 

D. RIBEIRO, A arte dos indios KaAiulu, Rio de Janeiro, undated (195) 
K. VON DEN STEINEN, (a) Durch Zentral-Brasilien, Leipzig, 1886. 

(b) Unter den Naturvolkern Zentral-Brasiliens, Berlin, 1894. 
A. COLBACCHINI, 1 Borows orientali 9 Turin, 1925. 
c. dvi-STRAUSS, Contribution I Tetude de Torganization sociale des Indiens 

Bororo , Journal de la Sodlti des Americanistes, new series, vol. 28, 1936. 
c. LEVI-STRAUSS, La Viefamiliale et sociale des Indiens Nambikwara, Societe des 

Am6ricanistes, Paris, 1948. 
c. livwtRAUSS, Le syncretisme religieux d un village mogh du territoire de 

Chittagong (Pakistan) , Revue de l y Histoire des religions, 1952. 
c. NIMUENDAJU (a) The Apinayt, Anthropological Series, Catholic University 

of America, No. 8, 1939. (&) The Serente, Los Angeles, 1942. 

E. ROQUETTE-PINTO, Rondonia, Rio de Janeiro, 1912. 

c. M. DA SILVA RONDON, Lectures Delivered by, Publications of the Rondon 

Commission, No. 43, Rio de Janeiro, 1916. 

THEODORE ROOSEVELT, Through the Brazilian Wilderness, New York, 1914- 
K. OBERG, Indian Tribes of Northern Mato Grosso, Brazil, Smithsonian 
" Institution, Institute of Social Anthropology, Publication, No. 15, 

Washington, D.C, 1953. ^ , r , 

JULIO c. TELLO: (a) Wira Kocha, Inca , vol. I, 1923; (6) Discovery of the 
Chavin culture in Peru , American Antiquity, vol. 9, 194-3- 



A accessories of dress, 210; baitemcm- 
nageo, function of, 214 ff; attitude 

Ailly, Pierre d , 80 tothedead,2i8ff,228ff;sorcerers, 

Amazonian forest, character of, 336, role of among, 220 ff.; evening 

33> roll-call, 225; Tugare clans, dances 

Amazonian forest-peoples, imagin- of, 226 ff.; 

ative qualities of, 358; magical and Bougainville, Louis Antoine de, 44, 

medical devices, 358-9, chestnut- 94 ff- 39 

workings, 361 Bougie, Celestin, 49 ff- * 

America, first penetration of, 240 ff. Brazil, author s first notion of, 49J 

American hybrid, sub-species of, 246 character of interior, 123 

Anthropology, role of adventure in, Breton, Andre, 26 

17; ambiguities of, 58 ff; self- Buddhism, morality of, 395 ff 

interrogatory aspect of, 374; fun 
damental dilemma of, 382 ff; 

contradictions involved in, 384; C 

a by-product of remorse?, 388; and 

bases of society, 389-90; and Caduveo, 141 ff, 149 ff; capital of 

progress, 392 P "^ ^J 7 A 

Arawaks, the, 239 *atf ttes among, I55ff; face- and 

Aztecs, the, 388 body-paintings of, 161 ff, 173 ft-5 

hierarchical structure of, 179 
Campos Novos, 373 ff 
B Cellini, Benvenuto, 332 

Chapadao, the, 191 

BaraodeMel g a90,sojoumat )3 i5-i6- Chittagong hill tracts the, 393 ff 
Barra dos Bugres, bonesetter at, 257 Chopin, FreMenc author and, 375 
Bernier, Fran 5 ois, 44 Cities westward drive in, 125 ff 

Boas, Franz, 63 Co omahsm, early character of, 79 ff 

Boggiani, Guido, ! 3 5 Columbus, 77 ff, 80 ff 

Bororo, ! 9 8-2 3 i passim; hierarchical Corneille, author s version of, 37- 
structure of, 178 ff; lay-out of 80 
villages, 203 ff; moieties, function Corumba, 183 ft. 
of, among, 205 ff ; clan structure, Courtin, Rene, 121 
206; material equipment of, 210; Cousin, Jean, 86 



Cresson, Andre, 57 
Cuiaba, 187 ff., 249 ff. 
Curitiba, 128 



Juruena, Jesuit fathers at, 264-5 
Juruena, Protestant Mission at, 251 


Dead, attitudes to, 216, 218 ff., 228 ff. 
Diamonds, hunters for, 192 ff. 
Diderot, Denis, 388 
Dumas, Georges, 19 ff, 50 


Kaingang, activities of, 199 
Kejara, 199 ff. 
Kroeber, A. L., 63 

Evreux, Yves d , 346 

Fire Island, N.Y., 143 ff 
Founder-fathers of America, origins 

of, 242 

France, role of, abroad, 105 
Frazer, Sir James, 56 

Ge tribes, 134 ff., 239 
Goiania, 129 ff. 
Goyaz, 128 


Haiti and San Domingo, 79 
Handwriting, significance of inven 
tion of, 291 
Hopewell culture, the, 246 

Lahore, 43 ff. 

Laugier, Henri, 235, 44, 85 ff, 344 353 

Levi-Strauss, Claude: earliest lec 
tures, 18; journey to America in 
1941, 24 ff; sojourn on Martin 
ique, 27-35; in Porto Rico, 36-37; 
begins career, 49 ff; origins of 
vocation, 54 ff ; period at Lycee 
de Mont-de-Marsan, 56; and 
Freud, 60; and Marx, 61 ff, 
395 ff; links with Anglo-Saxon 
colleagues and thought, 63 ff; 
first journey to America, 65 ff; 
on sunsets, 66 ff ; and Columbus, 
77 ff; New World, first experi 
ence of, 82; and Rio de Janeiro, 
83; and Provence, 96 ff; and 
grandfather, 215; attitude to sea, 
mountains, and forest, 332ff; and 
Chopin, 375; version of Corneille s 
Cinna, 376-80; and Rousseau, 
389 ff. 

Lowie, Robert H., 24, 63 




Manucci, Nicolas, 44. 
Margueritte, Victor, 50-3 
Martyr, Peter, 80 
Mat6, ritual drinking of, 14? ff 
Maugiie*, Jean, 121 
Mbaya-Guaicuru, social structure of, 


Metraux, Alfred, 24 
Mexican civilization, predecessors of, 


Montaigne, Michel de, 302-3 
Morbeck, Engineer, 193 


Oberg, K., quoted, 284 
Order of St. Jerome, monks, scru 
pulosity of in 1517, 79 

Parana, beauty of, 133 

Peruvian civilization, predecessors 

of, 241 

Porto Esperan9a, 143 ff. 
Power, origin and function of, 308 


Nalike, the Caduveo capital, 151 ff. 
Nambikwara: in general, 237 ff.; 
gardens of, 265; material poverty, 
266; veto on use of proper names, 
270; dialects, 270-1; programme 
of the day, 272; family affections, 
273 ff.; household pets, 276; 
erotic preoccupations, 277; func 
tion of the couple, 278; relations 
between the sexes, 279 ff; flute- 
music, 281; missionaries, massacre 
of, 282; K. Oberg on, 284; 
Sabane" and Turunde, union of, 
298; political power, succession of, 
302; leadership, 303 ffi homo 
sexuality among, 307; leaders, 
emergence of, 310; leader s 
privileges, 395 

Natural Man, the, 389 

New World, the lesson of, 39^ 

Nimuendaju, Curt, 328 

Norte-Parana, expeditions in, 123 ff 


Readers, modern, cannibal-instincts 

of, 43 

Rio de Janeiro, inaesthetic propor 
tions of, 83; early history of, 85; 
author explores, 88 ff 

Rodrigues, Gustave, 54 

Rondon, C. M. da Silva, 250, 327, 

3^9, 339, 343. 3<5i 
Rondon Commission, 237 
Rondon Line, the, life on, 262 ff. 
Roosevelt, Theodore, 237 
Roquette-Pinto, E., 237 
Rosario O&te, 256-7 
RousseauJ.J., 308, 310, 389ff 
Rubber-tappers, festivities among, 

3 6 ? r - 

Rubber-trader, economy of, 363 ft. 

Salesian Fathers, the, 199 
Sao Jeronymo, village and reserve, 
134, 136 ff. 


Sao Paulo: character of, 100 ff.; social 
elite of, pre-1939, 104 ff.; port of 
(Santos), 95 ff.; foreign colonies, 
iiiff.; State of, 116 ff.; Jesuits and 
planters in, 116 ff. 

Serge, Victor, 26 

Serra do Norte, inhospitable nature 
of, 250 

Sertao, the, character of, 143 

Souza-Dantos, Luis de, 24, 51 


Tupi-Kawahib: first encounter with, 
324; physical aspect of, 3 2 4"> 
language, 325; author s sojourn 
with the Mund6, 325; clan- 
names, 328; past history of, 328; 
diminishing numbers of, 330; 
village architecture, 342; con 
tempt for tobacco, 344; tradition 
of hospitality, 346; names, 349- 
50; chief s sexual privileges, 350; 
hierarchy of power, 353; role of 
chief, 354; play-acting among, 

Tanguy, Yves, 262 

Tavernier, Jean Baptiste, 44 

Thevet, A., 44, 341 

Time, and the traveller, 44 46 

Tombador, camp at, 258 ff. 

Travel, changed nature of, 38 ff; 

triple character of, 89 ff. 
Travellers tales, derisory character 

of, 40 ff. 
Tupi-Guarani, original dispositions, 

238 ff. 


Universities, Brazilian, expansion of, 


Unkel, Kurt, 238 
Urupa, 357 

Vfflard, J. A., 33 
Villegaignon, 85 ff. 

Continued from front flap 

From his rich experience with ouicr 
cultures, M. Levi-Strauss sets these 
tribes in a world context, and draw? 
fascinating comparisons and parallels 
which enhance his work and lend it an 
importance equal, perhaps, to that of 
Margaret Mead s studies of the Pacific 
peoples, and Doughty s Arabia Deserta. 

*M. L6vi-Strauss s reputation is already well 
established among his fellow anthropologists. 
"Tristes Tropiques" initiates a dialogue beyond 
this narrow circle . . . M. Le"vi-Strauss writes 
anthropology, history and philosophy with 
poetic insight and imagination. 

The Times Literary Supplement {London) 

Claude Levi-Strauss enjoys a world 
wide reputation as an anthropologist 
, " - Hter Returning to France, after 
u uLiimL jnd lecturing extensively in the 
U.S. for a number of years, he became 
r^f? *^ of Primitive Religion at the 
Ecole Prdtique des Hautes Etudes a*, 
the Sorbonne and then, in 1959, wa& 
appointed to the specially created Chaif 
of Social Anthropology, the first of thfe 
denomination, at the College de France, 

For complete free catalogue write to 


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